The Invisible Umbrella

This is an article published in our October 2017 Issue.

Raytheon’s MIM-104 Patriot system
Raytheon’s MIM-104 Patriot system attained fame during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It is currently in use with 13 nations and has been used to engage more than 100 ballistic missiles since the beginning of 2015. (Raytheon)

Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) systems comprise a range of assets focused on varying challenges. As the nature of the threat has grown more complex, so the technology of BMD has also evolved to help safeguard military and civilian targets alike.

The design and implementation of BMD systems are fuelled by the threat itself, according to a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) official: “We believe that our system should be driven by the threat, so we should always be able to provide due protection and coverage against that threat as we foresee it,” he told AMR. This focus on the threat has guided the evolution of NATO’s own BMD capability, the official said. In 2010 NATO’s membership announced its intention to develop a territorial BMD capability covering NATO’s European area. The Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was declared in July 2016. NATO’s efforts in this regard has seen the advance of BMD technology in southern Europe, which is considered a particularly high-priority region; while the system is far from complete, there is now “a stronger capability to defend Alliance populations, territory and forces across southern Europe’s NATO membership against a potential ballistic missile attack,” according to the Alliance official.

SM-3 SAM family
The SM-3 SAM family provides the offensive backbone of NATO’s Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defence initiative. An example of the weapon is seen here during a test firing. (US Navy)

NATO’s BMD architecture represents a complex patchwork of systems, which currently includes a US Army Raytheon AN/TPY-2 X-band (8.5 gigahertz/GHz to 10.68GHz) ground-based air surveillance radar in Turkey, US Navy vessels stationed in the Mediterranean equipped with the Lockheed Martin Aegis combat management system and AN/SPY-1D S-band (2.3GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) naval surveillance radars, a so-called ‘Aegis Ashore’ site in Romania also including an AN/SPY-1D radar and accompanying Raytheon RIM-161 Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block-1B Semi-Active Radar Homing/Infrared (SARH/IR) guided Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), and a command centre in Germany. A commonly funded command and control backbone links these systems together. NATO BMD could include further BMD-capable assets in future if provided by allies, such as Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot family SARH SAM or MBDA SAMP-T/Aster Active Radar Homing (ARH) SAM batteries.


The official said NATO’s BMD work takes place in five domains. First, the Alliance is focused on developing command and control functions and the accompanying communications backbone for the BMD architecture to link the sensors and weapons that provide the BMD capability. The second area is the work being carried out by individual NATO allies on their national systems. While these are country specific, they could tie into NATO BMD architecture at a later date, and are seen as being for “the common benefit”, the official continued. The third area of work is on the policy side, the official said, comprising “the overall policy framework for developing BMD.” The fourth focus is on military operational aspects and training, and “how BMD fits within the overall context of Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD).” Finally, the Alliance also focuses on the “external dimension”, the official explained. This covers outreach activities to non-NATO members, and included a dialogue with Russia before the Ukraine crisis, when Russia annexed the territory of Crimea in March 2014: “We of course know what the ultimate objective is: full coverage of NATO’s European membership and full implementation of the BMD programme, which is some time away,” he said: “The most imminent milestones are more on the national level,” the official added, pointing to the completion of the US Aegis Ashore site in Poland, expected for circa 2020.


Such a wide-scale network requires many different sensors, effectors and other assets. Raytheon is a major provider of such systems, notably through its MIM-104 family, which is currently in use in 13 nations and has been used to engage more than 100 ballistic missiles since the beginning of 2015. The system has evolved in a number of ways in recent years, said Joe DeAntona, vice president and business development executive for IAMD business development and strategy at the company. He pointed in particular to radar technology and Raytheon’s Gallium Nitride (GAN) Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) innovations, which has been incorporated into a number of radars and is now being brought to the MIM-104 family via the upgrade of its AN/MPQ-65 C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) ground-based air surveillance/fire control radars with GAN which allows the radar to operate at comparatively higher power levels than previous versions of the radar, providing more transmission power: “It’s going to give the Patriot customer a much greater range, a much greater footprint of protection,” observed Mr. DeAntona: “It will give the customer full, 360 degree protection and will reduce the operational and maintenance cost by about 50 percent.”

AN/MPQ-65 radar
Raytheon’s GAN AESA enhancement to the firm’s AN/MPQ-65 radar will allow the system to perform 360 degree surveillance, while also significantly improving the radar’s transmission power.

The MIM-104 family is often associated with defence against tactical ballistic missiles, though Mr. DeAntona said that it was not limited to these. There is a wide array of threats in the IAMD space, he noted, ranging far beyond missiles: ‘It’s being used to protect against the full range of air and missile threats, from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to cruise missiles to rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, as well as tactical ballistic missiles.” Those threats have seen tremendous change over the past twenty to thirty years, added Tarik Reyes, vice president of missile defence and protective systems at Northrop Grumman. Today the threat has evolved not only on the kinetic side, with saturation attacks from swarms of missiles a particular concern, but also in terms of the non-kinetic threat, with cyber and electronic attacks capable of damaging BMD infrastructure: “It’s like stepping into a ring ready for a boxing match to find that you’re actually fighting a mixed martial artist,” he said. “There are so many different threat vectors.” In such an environment, one missile defence system alone will not provide sufficient protection: “We have to evolve into a multi-domain perspective,” Mr. Reyes added: “We have to take assets from different domains; land, sea, air, space and cyber, and be able to leverage the information we need and make sure we are using the right effect.”

Raytheon’s MIM-104 Patriot system
Raytheon’s MIM-104 Patriot system attained fame during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It is currently in use with 13 nations and has been used to engage more than 100 ballistic missiles since the beginning of 2015. (Raytheon)

Command and Control

Northrop Grumman’s major focus in the area is the provision of Command and Control (C2) for IAMD, which enables integrated ballistic missile defence for the US and other countries. The idea is to connect and integrate a huge range of assets, from the Aegis systems discussed above to the Lockheed Martin Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) IR-guided SAM system, providing full situational awareness and information to enable the right weapon to be deployed against a given threat: “If you go back 30 or 40 years ago it was a different perspective: you had one threat and you could manage against that one threat,” Mr. Reyes continued: “Today you have lots of threat vectors and you have to evolve into that.” Command and control is ‘the heartbeat’ of this, Mr. Reyes added: “We need to leverage every asset on the battlefield that’s available to us, and leverage every effect on the battlefield that’s available to us … We look at it from a network perspective, where each asset is a node on the network.”

A spokesperson for MBDA, which works on a range of BMD programmes, including SAMP-T/Aster family, also pointed to the increasingly multifaceted nature of the threat. He said that attacks in the future can be expected to mix cruise and ballistic missiles so as to saturate defences. Aster-15/30 missiles were designed from the beginning with this in mind, he said. The new generation, now in development, will operate with a Ka-band (33.4GHz to 36GHz) radar seeker, providing a longer detection range compared to legacy versions of the missile to engage targets that are faster and more manoeuvrable. The new missile will be fielded with France and Italy in 2023, the spokesperson said: “It’s still the same missile, but it has an improved capability to engage faster targets coming from further away.”

PAC-3 missile
One MEADS launcher sits ready while a second fires a PAC-3 missile. MEADS will be used by a number of different countries, and the system is designed to be mounted on different vehicles. (MEADS International)

New Threats

An effective BMD system must protect a wide range of military and civilian assets and populations. This wide-ranging role gives it a crucial importance, said Howard Bromberg, vice president of business development at Lockheed Martin: “Governments really see this as a critical capability for many, many reasons,” he told AMR: “They need advanced, integrated air and missile defence systems, in order to get the protection and confidence that they need for this ever-growing threat.” That threat has changed considerably over the past ten to fifteen years, said Mr. Bromberg. The air and missile defence threat is developing at a much more rapid pace today, and is also growing much more complex, he noted. In the view of Lockheed Martin, the best way to address this is through multi-tiered, layered defences, comprising a range of different defensive assets: “Now we have aeroplanes, missiles and helicopters to worry about, but also UAVs rockets, artillery and mortars,” Mr. Blomberg added: “We see these threats in the same battlespace.” When it comes to new threats like UAVs, there are both kinetic and non-kinetic means of defending against them, he said, and it may not be necessary to develop an entirely new means of defence: “You have to look to see if it’s possible to integrate other means of military technology that may be able to defeat it: you may not always have to design something new,” he said: “We are in the process of looking at that right now, at the best way to approach and defeat that problem.”

Lockheed Martin’s PAC-3 weapon
Lockheed Martin’s PAC-3 weapon is equipping the latest incarnation of the MIM-104 Patriot family, the MIM-104F, alongside the MEADS system. (Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin works across the BMD domain. Alongside its development of the THAAD, the company produces the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) ARH-guided SAM equipping the MIM-104F SAM battery, and is involved (alongside MBDA) in the development of pan-European MEADS (Medium Extended Air Defence System) SAM battery, which also uses the PAC-3 missile. In terms of recent developments, Mr. Bromberg said Lockheed Martin is working to expand its ‘hit-to-kill’ technology across a wider range of products. The hit-to-kill approach is used in the PAC-3 and THAAD systems, and is designed to destroy a threat using the kinetic force of the SAM: the company compares it to one bullet stopping another bullet in mid-flight. Hit-to-kill is made up of three fundamental principles, according to Lockheed Martin: First, it is designed to effectively detect the exact location of the threat, using technology including an onboard radar seeker. The second key element is getting to the threat, for which the missile must be agile and manoeuvrable, with rapid steering control provided by a solid propellant rocket motor, aerodynamic surfaces, attitude control motors and inertial guidance. Finally the missile must stop the threat, which it achieves through the hit-to-kill impact. A high level of kinetic energy during the impact protects the defended area from falling debris resulting from the engagement, the company added. Mr. Bromberg said Lockheed Martin has recently produced its Miniature Hit-to-Kill weapon; a smaller missile that aims to use the same approaches to defeat threats such as rockets, artillery, and mortars.

Looking forward, Mr. Reyes observed that non-kinetic threats would grow in importance: for example, the potential damage that an adversary could cause to BMD infrastructure through an anti-access area denial electronic or cyber attack. The ability for networked C2 to reduce the possibility of a single point of failure becomes even more important, he added: “This part of the equation is less expensive, but you can create as much of an effect as anything else,” he said: “I think that’s really where the direction is. Obviously we must have the ability to defend against kinetic threats, but I think the non-kinetic side is really where there is a lot of focus. We’re right in the middle of that with our cyber capabilities.” Mr. DeAntona also pointed to cyber attacks as a potential concern for BMD systems, stating that Raytheon has boosted its investment in relevant technologies and capabilities to ensure cyber security is infused across its BMD product lines: ‘You have to understand the cyber threat,” he stated: “You have to know the (potential) vulnerability of your weapon systems to these attacks.” Mr. DeAntona added that nations would increasingly require a family of weapons for effective BMD: “There’s no one single silver bullet that’s good for every threat, so we are investing in an integrated capability to ensure that a family of different types of missiles can be utilised by customers who have the Patriot weapon system,” he said.

Mr. Bromberg, meanwhile, also pointed to the integration of multiple capabilities as a trend that is likely to advance in the coming years, not only in terms of the effectors: “You have to integrate cyber security and additional sensors and systems. You need to continually improve the accuracy, lethality, range and reliability of your products.” A number of technologies are seen as potentially being “the next major technological leap” in BMD Mr. Bromberg said, such as directed energy systems. However, it is important to establish how exactly these different technologies can be integrated into existing BMD systems, while maximizing the performance of the existing systems across multiple domains: “There are always new things on the horizon: how do you keep pace with the threat, while bringing in these other areas?” he asked. “That’s really the challenge.”

by Gerrard Cowan