Pentagon to Test Missile-Tracking Sensor on Reaper Drone

An MQ-9 Reaper drone equipped with the multi-spectral targeting systems-C (MTS-C) electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) sensor designed to detect and track ballistic missiles flew during an exercise in 2016 at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy Missile Defense Agency)An MQ-9 Reaper drone equipped with the multi-spectral targeting systems-C (MTS-C) electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) sensor designed to detect and track ballistic missiles flew during an exercise in 2016 at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy Missile Defense Agency)

The U.S. Defense Department plans to test a new ballistic missile-tracking sensor on a medium-altitude MQ-9 Reaper drone.

The Missile Defense Agency on Monday awarded a $10 million contract to drone-maker General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., based in San Diego, to develop “key laser subsystems required to demonstrate precision tracking,” according to the contract announcement.

Specifically, the agreement calls for the firm to “develop and demonstrate, a[n] MQ-9 flight representative laser system with the beam train optics required to upgrade a multi-spectral targeting system for use as an active tracking sensor,” it states.

The technology has been in the works for some time.

The agency as part of its fiscal 2012 spending request planned to “integrate the multi-waveband MTS-C Airborne Infrared (ABIR) sensor on the MQ-9 Reaper,” according to budget information at the time. “This sensor is designed to significantly improve the ability to track cold body targets through their time of flight and enhance discrimination.”

The sensor was installed into the nose of an experimental Reaper drone that flew earlier this year over Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, as shown in the photograph above, an official said.

General Atomics last week announced it successfully performed a missile-tracking test during an exercise held June 26-28 off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii.

The training exercise, called Pacific Dragon, occurs every other year and involves U.S., Japanese and South Korean naval forces as they seek to evaluate their technology for tracking ballistic missiles, according to a release from General Atomics.

In the latest test, MQ-9 Reapers equipped with Raytheon Co.’s multi-spectral targeting systems-C (MTS-C) electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) turrets were used to detect and track a ballistic missile target, according to the release. The drone aircraft also participated in exercises with U.S. Navy vessels, it states.

“The test provided valuable data in our ongoing effort to develop an effective airborne missile defense capability,” Linden Blue, chief executive officer of the company, said in the release.

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.