Pulse news magazine

Volume 16, June 2016

Seeker success

Members of ES’ THAAD program team review two-color imagery data from a simulated target test of the missile seeker
As tensions rise in the Pacific Rim, Electronic Systems engineers work to enhance the missile seeker for an invaluable missile defense program known as THAAD.

Today’s geopolitical climate – from foreign military activity in the Korean Peninsula to the more-recent, renewed focus on the region from China and Russia – underscores the demand for a little known, yet powerful, contribution to the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) made and manufactured by BAE Systems Electronic Systems sector.

A group of dedicated Electronic Systems (ES) engineers has worked together to combat potential ballistic missile threats with the sector’s missile-seeking technology program. The technology, first developed more than 35 years ago through a legacy business based in Lexington, Massachusetts, provides the “brains behind the brawn” in the massive Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system. THAAD is a truck-mounted platform designed to counter short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles and is one layer of defense for BMDS.

“Our technology provides the imagery to direct the THAAD missile to its target,” said ES business development manager Shanna Owens. “Without it, the missile would be ineffective.”

Encapsulated in the THAAD seeker assembly is an intricate telescope and infrared camera that currently uses a single-color (spectral band) analog Focal Plane Array to seek out the heat signature of a designated target and provides those images to a mission computer that keeps the missile on target.

Providing the most accurate and responsive imagery is critical to the success of the THAAD program. Essentially, a bullet hitting a bullet, THAAD depends on the imagery the IR camera provides to intercept and eliminate the target.

“Our accuracy and reliability makes us a differentiator in this technology space,” said program manager Ed Marden. “Our camera is able to provide accurate images, both in and out of Earth’s atmosphere and has shown – through rigorous testing – that our technology consistently enables THAAD to intercept its target.”

In fact, it has a record of 13 for 13 hits in test and is U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s most successful program.

The missile-seeker technology engineering team maintains a tight bond. The team, led by Marden, has responded repeatedly to program challenges and demanding timelines to stay one step ahead of its competition.

That latest step includes upgrading the seeker assembly to include two-color digital technology that will enable the missile to better differentiate between the target and its decoys. The team worked tirelessly to produce a working prototype in a record-breaking 14 months by leveraging existing technology and hardware and went on to conduct two successful demonstrations of the upgraded assembly in 2015.

Initial feedback from both the Missile Defense Agency and ES’ customer, Lockheed Martin, who manufactures THAAD, was outstanding. Both groups were happy with the results, saying they were impressed by the improved capability and the short amount of time it took to produce it.

“There is no better motivator than positive feedback and the satisfaction of knowing your contributions make a difference and directly contribute to our mission of protecting those who protect us,” said Marden. “The team is actively working to deliver a next revision of the new technology by the end of the year, which will provide us with a competitive edge for years to come.”

By Michelle A. St. John, Communications, Merrimack, New Hampshire