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Miniature hit-to-kill rocket interceptor completes flight test


March 27, 2013

The Lockheed Martin Miniature Hit-to-Kill interceptor roaring off the launcher (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed Martin Miniature Hit-to-Kill interceptor roaring off the launcher (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

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The U.S. Army is funding Lockheed Martin to develop hardware and software for the Extended Area Protection and Survivability (EAPS) program. Under this program, Lockheed Martin has conducted the first guided test flight of the Miniature Hit-to-Kill (MHTK) interceptor rocket. The MHTK is designed to defeat incoming rocket, artillery, and mortar fire out to ranges of 3 - 4 km (1.9 - 2.5 miles).

More soldiers are killed on the battlefield by mortars than by any other weapon of war. Accordingly, high priority is given to methods of defeating mortar fire. This is one of the purposes of the EAPS program, which is essentially a next-generation miniaturized version of the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system.

However, rather than removing incoming threats with explosive warheads, the EAPS system uses MHTK interceptors, somewhat like a low-altitude version of the U.S. National Ballistic Missile Defense System. These interceptors are very small and highly agile rockets, only 69 cm (27 in) in length, about 3.8 cm (1.5 in) in diameter (not counting the fins), and weighing about 2.3 kg (5 lb). The MHTK is powered by a Nammo Talley rocket engine.

The MHTK rockets contain a tungsten penetrator and a semi-active radar guidance system that guides the rockets to strike targets which are illuminated by a ground-based radar. While this goal may seem fantastic, it is worth remembering that semi-actively-guided .50 caliber bullets have been developed that home on a laser-illuminated target.

The EAPS test was held March 22 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The exercise was designed to test the MHTK interceptor in a realistic field scenario, where an enemy mortar is launched at an MHTK-protected area.

When a ground-based radar detects the mortar round, it's tracked as it approaches the protected area. The mortar round is illuminated by a high frequency radar while one or more MHTK interceptors are launched vertically from a NLOS (Non-Line-Of-Sight) launcher on a trajectory from which the interceptor can detect the reflected illumination from the mortar round.

The MHTK interceptor being tested maneuvered to pass close by the target (this was not an interception test), and as it did so, it returned data to the fire control system. In addition to measuring the performance of the interceptor, which performed in accordance with expectations, this was the first time that the entire intercept system was tested as a unified whole. An intercept flight test is planned for later in 2013.

Sources: Lockheed Martin and Aviation Week

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

Operationally this has got to cost more than a machine gun (up to 30mm) or laser based system.


I seem to remember the Navy's CIWS could shoot down incoming shells ...

Jeffrey Carlson

The concept is great. Defending troops and destroying enemy's highly cost ammunition at the same time

Maxim Chanturiay

mortar rounds are dirt cheap not expensive


Slowburn: Do you realise the difficulty of destroying a mortar round in its terminal phase using machine guns? Frankly extremely difficult. That is why the best possible light cannon to use for the job would be a 20- 30mm CWIS - usually a gattling cannon design.

Which brings me to Jeffery's point - if the weapon has a cyclic rate of fire of say 6000 rpm and you fire a 3 second burst per mortar round engaged, that's 300 rounds fired, only a few of which may hit. What happens to the other 290 odd rounds? Have you considered the collateral damage to surrounding populations and forces?

Mortar rounds as Dekarate has pointed out are very cheap - as are mortar tubes. This is a very expensive system, BUT hopefully the number of missiles needing to be fired would be less than 5 to 10 (as that would be as many rounds as the mortar team would be able to get away before counter battery fire guided by using Mortar locating radar such as the AN/TPS 49 will quickly wipe out the offending tube and crew. Even insurgents aren't stupid - if none of their rounds get though, and they are wiped out they will be forced to use alternate methods which may be more expensive and or difficult to enable.

Marc 1

I second Marc1's comment. Many bases are surrounded by civilian population. 30mm rounds falling back down at terminal velocity can kill people.

Laser/energy based systems are the long term solution, but may be limited for multiple projectiles unless the directed energy is sufficiently high.

For the short to medium term, a battery of mini missiles provide a solution.

However all these systems can't defend against a directional air burst mortar that sends a narrow cone of dense shrapnel towards the intended destination. Someone needs to invent enegy shields. :b


re; Marc 1

Hitting a 75mm wide target at a range of 500m with a 7.62mm X 51mm (308) round is not difficult. Using a computer controlled, radar guided, machine gun that is in a powered stabilized mount to hit a target on a ballistic target does not seem an insurmountable task. The smallest gun I would use is a 12.7mm (50BMG).

On a conventional battlefield like WWII making the the bullets come down on enemy territory (Avoiding civilian populated areas) or in cleared fallout zones. However bullets do not have to come down with lethal force. Making bullets that will develop on unaerodynamic tumble or placing a tiny explosive charge that will reshape the projectile to generate aerodynamic high drag is easily doable and I see no real difficulty in making bullets that burn to dust before falling back to earth.


Have any of you ever been on the receiving end of an artillery barrage? You need a few truck loads of these little rockets. It's a great idea, but too expensive to implement for real-world use.


"Hitting a 75mm wide target at a range of 500m with a 7.62mm X 51mm (308) round is not difficult. "

But hitting a 82mm target at 500m when it's moving at a high rate of speed is a STUPENDOUSLY difficult task. Recall WW2 where anti-aircraft guns had to shoot thousands of rounds in order to hit air planes (obviously much larger than mortar bombs).

Ron Johnson

Dunno whether this is a good idea or not, but I'd add a chip to plot the original source and a device to flatten it while I was at it... Hey - maybe use whiffle bullets? High rate of initial speed and slow down quicky at a set range? Or "bird shot"?


All military tests of new weapons systems are set up to 'succeed' even though they don't work worth a damn. In this way the $ keep flowing to the contractors and the military techies can keep playing with their toys. That's one reason why we're still building F-35s at umpteen billion $ a piece even though they don't work as planned, contracted for and designed. Just another wast of taxpayer's money.


I am a retired U.S.Army Ordnance officer and over my time we have invested in lots of attempts to individually target an incoming round. This is an enormously problematic challenge whether the projo is a bullet, an artillery shell, a mortar round, or air-dropped bomb. These systems have sometimes seemed OK as labtoys but have only rarely been delivered and they are always expensive. Unfortunately, mortar shells are cheap & easy to use & move, therefore hard to target. Counter battery targeting does work, mostly, but not at less than a few rounds up front. Opponents can & do learn to shoot & haul ass so counter battery operations are sometimes a hunt & peck chancy event. Better than nothing except to those taking incoming fire. SlowKlue's idea for individual bullets that disintegrate or turn into daisies is lunatic. While shrinking digital electronics do offer a chance to put new functions into smaller spaces these changes are not cheap or easy. The reality is that ordnance fired up does in fact come down somewhere. A fact that has seemed to elude folks who celebrate a cheery moment by pumping out a few rounds. Trying to hit a fast moving, small, hard to image target in an even smaller amount of time is stupendously difficult. The relative cost issue does not hinge on the cost of a mortar round versus the system cost of this hit-to-kill solution but on the cost to us of taking mortar fire. Protecting our soldiers and preserving our mission capability is well worth the effort. When the infantry got this very expensive smart grenade launcher that pops a grenade over a wall where the round then tips down and explodes was very effective at suppressing the Talibs. And very cheap at just about a grand per grenade. Far less than one injury or death for us.


I uhh sorta agree with stWils the physics alone of a system of this type are nearly impossible since the opposer can simply move quickly and effectively our rules of engagement are NOT in accordance with WHO we are engaging!,Patton AND Rommel MUST be rolling in their graves!,look he's right fire into the sky it's coming DOWN I could care LESS what you say war is war and war IS HELL people DO DIE it's simple!,

Thaddeous Blanchard

With today's devices, I am confident that we can develop the perfect defense system. One would think that with our advanced "tracking systems" (Radar for lack of a better term) can track all "incoming" rounds, and do so with such speed and accuracy that we can "lock on" to them. Then, with a bit more development, perhaps we can design a concentrated LASER that would utilize the tracking system to stay with and burn up the "incoming" round within seconds. I really don't think that is too far fetched. And utilizing this type of system could be adapted to ALL types of "incoming" weapons....


re; Ron Johnson

WWII anti-aircraft guns were not radar guided and only the Allies (US Navy development) had proximity fused ammo for 5inch guns which they only used over water until the Battle of the Bulge to assure that the Germans would not get a sample to copy. Also incoming artillery is coming fast but it has a low side vector. Incidentally V-1 buzz bombs which were only slightly less predictable than mortar rounds only required an average of less than 5 rounds each to stop.

re; StWils

So you have never heard of exploding bullets. If most of the bullets mass is made of small pieces of barium or strontium and you have a short fuse and miniscule bursting charge the biggest fastest piece coming down will be the very unaerodynamic copper foil that used to be the jacket.

I agree with the cost benefit annalist being lives saved not weapons taken out.


A portable laser guided and radar sensor system with an Australian designed "Metal Storm" Jacket less auto fire Gun to atomise the incoming mortar. Overhead long flight protection drone with heat sensing , Laser targeting and optical system to guide ground based fire (both artillery and 50Cal ) against the Local the insurgents who are dug in.

You take down the incoming and at the same time have an eye in the sky to provide Millimetre precise targetting & take out the insurgents firing the Mortars.


I don't understand why MTHEL was never adopted.It seems to have aced all test firings: http://www.popscreen.com/v/6IOa4/MTHEL-THEL-Mobile--Tactical-High-Energy-Laser


Sounds like something Wiley Coyote thought up in his lab. This concept is like hitting moving bullets with more moving bullets. Why can't the govt concentrate on things that will actually work instead of developing a constant stream of tax dollar wasting hair brained ideas.


Now if you can get a target , why not get the person that shoot the mortor. MORTORS come in bunches , one for the Mortor one more for the morter launchers. Mortors have a path start and finish , finish the job. Using WP makes more booms, also WP leaves a good tell.

Ronald Leard

re; Ron Johnson

The speed of the target is important as it relates to the speed of the tracking and targeting system. The is a big difference between shooting at maneuvering airplanes and ballistic projectiles.


Mortars are slow moving targets, long range artillery have to come a long way, and both follow real predictable paths which make putting a bullet in their path relatively easy if you can respond fast enough. Computers are getting that fast. Thanks gamers.

re; Ronald Leard

That is counter battery fire; everybody does it. However shooting back at a mortar that may have been placed days earlier in a place designed to cause the returned fire to cause mass noncombatant casualties is not something that the good guys like to do. On the other hand people that place themselves into harms way to shield the weapons and/or shooters are not noncombatants.


Keep it simple - a simple device set up next to a machine gun or personell location could work like active armor and be projected up 100 ft or more to intercept mortars or even bombs or missiles - the radar needed is pretty cheap if made in volume. Hitting things further and further away would be nice, but something light and easy to use to allow forward positions some security would be great for personal security - stick it in the ground and it just looks up and launches to protect you - I am sure a mortar blast 100ft above would not be nice, but much better then next to you throwing up dirt and rocks.

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