Surface-to-air missile detection system for commercial and rural airports

Relatively inexpensive threat identification using ground-based sensor hardware and software


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Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down by a surface to air missile on 17 July 2014 while flying over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.

In response to the threat of missile-armed terrorists, the U.S. Navy has developed a cost-effective, reliable and user-friendly anti-missile system to protect aircraft, which makes use of available sensor technology and which is relatively easy to deploy at large airports as well as smaller rural airfields.

The Distributed Ground-Based Threat Detection System is an automated missile warning system, which is designed to provide a reliable, timely and accurate missile location of a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile within an area under surveillance by using a network of sensor nodes.

The sensor nodes are positioned in the vicinity of a takeoff or landing flight path of an aircraft – points at which aircraft are particularly vulnerable to ground-launched threats – at an airport such that the area requiring surveillance is viewable by at least two sensors in the gird. Each node has multiple optical sensors viewing and monitoring a defended area between adjacent nodes. The grid of networked ground-based sensors for missile-launch detection and localization is then used either to trigger the release of countermeasures by the aircraft under attack or to cue a ground-based countermeasure system to defeat the missile.

The detection of a threat missile in the coverage area of the sensor nodes is performed by a High-Speed Capture and Detect (HSCD) algorithm. The HSCD algorithm accurately and consistently locates a missile’s plume within the field of view while minimizing the effects of non-threat background clutter.

Threat declaration is performed by determining whether a target is a missile through an analysis of speed and acceleration thresholds. The magnitude of the velocity or acceleration estimated by the Kalman filter is required to exceed its respective threshold by at least one standard deviation. The threshold levels are chosen to be significantly greater than the velocity or acceleration of any aircraft in a takeoff/landing corridor. This relatively simple threshold approach consistently produces threat declarations within a few seconds (e.g. 2-4 seconds) after the launch of a missile.

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