Army to build a 3-D-printed, fully automated air-to-ground missile system
Military officials said Monday they plan to build an entirely new, 3-dimensional, fully automatic air-defence missile system that would have the capability to defend the US homeland.
“Our goal is to bring this new system to fruition by the end of 2019,” Lt.-Gen. Kevin J. Folt, the chief of staff for the Air Force’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense, told reporters.
“It is a major advancement that will help to enhance the capability of our military to defend our homeland and will be used to protect our vital interests,” he said.
The new system will be made from an all-new material called an AIM-120C air-defense missile, Folt said.
It will have a range of up to 4,000 kilometres (2,600 miles) and is being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp. The AIMs will be fired from ground-launched cruise missiles, or LCTMs, which can fly more than 1,000km (620 miles) in a single orbit.
AIM, for short, stands for Air-to‑Ground Missile System.
The US military has spent billions on new AIM systems to counter threats from Iran, North Korea, Russia and China.
The United States and its allies, including Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, have also been working on a new generation of missiles.
In recent years, the US military and the Pentagon have been upgrading its own missile defence system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, to deal with threats from China, Iran and Russia.
It has been in the works for decades, with many components manufactured in China and Australia.
The system was designed to be able to shoot down a North Korean missile in a matter of minutes.
In response to questions from ABC News, Lockheed Martin said it was not clear whether the new AIFF system would be able “to protect the United States from North Korea’s missiles or its other ballistic threats”.
“We can only share information with our allies and partners in an effort to keep our partners safe,” the company said in a statement.
The company said it is not aware of the US government’s plan to procure a new AIF system.
“Lockheed Martin is committed to working with our international partners and our customers to develop an AIFF-based system that is capable of countering ballistic missile threats,” it said.
Australia’s defence minister, Mark Butler, said it could be “a decade” before Australia had a system that could shoot down missiles launched by North Korea.
“I think that will take a lot of time,” he told ABC Radio National’s Today program.
“You would be looking at the time scale, what you would need to build, and how you would be dealing with the complexity of dealing with North Korea.”
In a statement, Lockheed said its “unified strategic missile defence (SSM) platform will have the same capabilities and interoperability with other US systems that are already deployed”.
It added that the US Air Force had developed a “system” that would be compatible with its existing SSM.
The Defence Department’s chief of defence staff, General Lloyd Austin, said the AIFF “would be the first system of its kind in the world”.
“The AIFF platform is a new development, but it’s the first of its type, which makes it very significant,” he was quoted as saying by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The air defence system will have an effective range of more than 4,500 kilometres (1,200 miles), according to the defence department.
“The capability of the system is based on the combined capabilities of our air- and missile-defense systems,” Folt added.
The Australian defence secretary, David Johnston, told the ABC he believed that Australia would be “well served” by the AIF missile system.