Combined Aerial Target Service (CATS)

The UK Armed Forces face a wide variety of aerial threats, with variables that include speed, stealth, and flight profiles. Attack helicopters can have a speed of zero, for instance, while some anti-ship missiles can exceed Mach 3. Air-to-air practice targets for RAF aircraft have a very different profile than wave-skimming anti-ship missiles. Consider, too, the difference in regulations and safety procedures: an aerial target’s rocket-assisted takeoff may require environmental waivers on land, but ship launches turn it into a safety issue.

The approach up to 2006 had been for individual services to buy individual target drones, but the results weren’t entirely satisfactory. Could the UK’s emerging approach of long-term public-private partnership for government service delivery be used to provide an overlapping set of targets that would meet the needs of all 3 services? It was a risk; both the solution’s definition and its mode of delivery were new, and hence relatively untested. At the same time, it was an attractive idea.

The process to make that idea a reality began in September 2001.

Finally, Qinetiq was contracted on 14 December 2006 to establish the Combined Aerial Target Service (CATS) for air defence training and test and evaluation for the UK's armed forces over the next 20 years. The contract value for the 20 years reaching 2026 is 308 million pounds. QinetiQ already managed and operated the MOD's 22 principal test and evaluation ranges through the 25-year LTPA, awarded in 2003.

Under CATS, QinetiQ provides all of the UK MOD's aerial target requirements. When the contract was signed, it was already providing the aerial target service at the airport of Aberporth, South Wales as part of the Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA) [a 25 years deal worth 915 millions] and which became a significant part of the new CATS contract. With CATS, QinetiQ received the single-supplier responsibility of providing a service for ground-based air defence training, aerial target services for the Royal Navy, and an air-to-air service for the RAF. The service is capable of operating from any suitable range worldwide, and has been expanded, post-2006, to include several different kind of targets to enhance the training effectiveness. The targets are transported and deployed whenever live-firing training is to be staged, from BATUS to the Falklands to Aberporth and UK waters for FOST training of the Navy.  

Mirach 100/5 targets from Selex Galileo Avionica based on Aberporth provide the RAF with targets for live fire training.

Meggitt Defence Systems' Banshee targets, which will now be operated by QinetiQ, are also fully integrated at UK ranges in Manorbier, Aberporth and the Hebrides. The Meggitt Voodoo intermediate target and helicopter pop-up target complete the suite of targets that comprise the total service.

The British military does have a requirement for supersonic aerial target services, and QinetiQ may have to add a supersonic target to its team during the 20-year contract. Various options are available, including Orbital Science’s GQM-163 Coyote SSST used by the U.S. Navy, and under evaluation by France, which would like to finally test for real the Aster 30 missile by shooting down this supersonic drone. The british requirement is the same, and a collaborative approach might not be a dumb idea, nor an impossible scenario in the new climate of "share it or lose it". 

It is to be noted that, on 20 March 2007, France ordered ONE Coyote, support equipment, spare parts, technical data, and technical assistance  under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The order totaled a cost of 9.2 million dollars, and was targeted at "supporting the validation of a French weapons system". 
Exactly which system was not specified, but it has always been believed that it was Aster 30. The launch was planned for late 2009, but so far nothing has happened: it is not clear what the status of the programme is. It might only have suffered delays (the Aster troubles that had to be fixed, perhaps delays in the work on the Coyote itself, since 18% of the work on it was to be done in France [cannot buy it ready from the americans without hurting their Grandeur, after all!]) or have been cancelled. At some point, though, we might see Aster 30 facing the real trial, in the future.    

The Drones

Mirach 100/5 
The Italian built Mirach 100/5 has a maximum cruising speed of 530 knots and can sea-skim at 520 knots. It can fly as low as 10 feet above sea level and as high as 40,000 feet.
This exceptional multi-role threat simulation system includes a state of the art Aerial Target and modern Ground Control Station plus a wide selection of mission payloads able to qualify and exercise all required weapon systems. From Aberforth, this drone provides the RAF fighters with targets for ASRAAM, Sidewinder and AMRAAM missiles. 

It is used by the Royal Navy via Naval Air Service squadron 792, which controls them during live firing training of weapons such as Sea Dart and, now, Sea Viper. Both HMS Dauntless and HMS Daring have already had the honor of taking down one each of these drones. 

Mirach 100/5 Statistics
Maximum Speed
0.85 Mach / 530 knots
Overall Length
90 Minutes
Max Load Factor
Instant Load Factor
Wing Area
Fuselage Diameter
Payload Weight
Payload Volume
60 Litres

Meggitt Banshee 

One of the world's most popular small piston-powered target drones is the British Meggitt Defence Systems (originally Target Technology LTD) "Banshee". The Banshee was first flown in 1983. It is a small delta-winged drone, made mostly of plastic, with a pusher prop and powered by a small rotary engine. It floats, allowing recovery at sea.

The target can be fitted with radar enhancement devices, or a flare or chaff dispenser, and can tow a target sleeve. It can be fitted with a "sea skimming module" to allow it to simulate an antiship missile, and can also carry a small color imager for reconnaissance missions. Over 5,000 Banshees have been built, and the target is in service with dozens of countries all around the world. In CATS, it is used as Basic training device.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                2.49 meters         8 feet 2 inches
   length                  2.84 meters         9 feet 4 inches
   height                  0.86 meters         2 feet 10 inches
   empty weight            38.5 kilograms      85 pounds
   launch weight           72.6 kilograms      160 pounds

   maximum speed           322 KPH             200 MPH / 174 KT
   service ceiling         7,000 meters        23,000 feet
   endurance               1 hour 15 minutes

   launch scheme           Bungee or pneumatic catapult.
   recovery scheme         Skid landing or parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot with GPS, and radio control.

Meggitt Voodoo 

Also from Meggitt is the "Voodoo", used as Intermediate training target. It's of more conventional configuration, with a straight wing and a vee tail, and is powered by a 108 kW (145 HP) piston engine. Its airframe is made mostly of carbon-epoxy composite. It's launched by a pneumatic catapult and recovered by parachute, with an optional airbag system. The Voodoo is compatible with the Banshee control system, as well as Banshee payloads.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                3.90 meters         12 feet 10 inches
   length                  3.65 meters         12 feet
   height                  1.03 meters         3 feet 5 inches
   empty weight            155 kilograms       340 pounds
   launch weight           210 kilograms       465 pounds

   maximum speed           610 KPH             380 MPH / 330 KT
   service ceiling         7,000 meters        23,000 feet
   endurance               1 hour 30 minutes

   launch scheme           Pneumatic catapult.
   recovery scheme         Parachute, with optional airbag.
   guidance system         Autopilot with GPS, and radio control.


The Pop-Up drone target completes the  system: it is a mock-up of a Mil-24 attack helicopter, mounted on a system that allows it to, of course, pop up over the horizon like an attack chopper would do emerging from behind trees or hills in order to fire its rockets and missiles. The Pop-Up is the absolute favorite target of the Starstreak missile, for obvious reasons. 

A Mil-24 popping up to fire at you is never a good thing...

Possible future addition: GQM-163A Coyote Supersonic Sea Skimming Target

The rocket-boosted, ramjet-powered GQM-163A was developed to simulate supersonic cruise missiles like the SS-N-22 Sunburn, Kh-31 (aka. AS-17 Krypton, which also has an anti-air AWACS-killer version), the Indo-Russian PJ-10 Brahmos, et. al., which are proliferating throughout the world. Their speed and evasive maneuvers compress the amount of time a defense system has to deal with them once they’re detected, and a training target that can simulate their performance is critical to both proper preparedness and pursuant performance.

Despite the need for a proper training drone being evident from as far back as 1990, even the US Navy did not really manage to come up with a fully funded, effective programme. There were a lot of false starts and problems, funding was never really there, and only in June 2000 Orbital Sciences was finally contracted to develop the Coyote. The drone suffered a number of program delays before its final developmental test flight eventually took place in April 2005

The Coyote is launched with the same booster used by the RIM-67 Standard ER SAM.

Let's be real clear: the Coyote is bloody expensive. The latest US Navy acquisition was for 7 complete drones and related support, odds and ends, and cost 26.2 million dollars, or some 3.75 millions each (!),which explains why it is always bought in ridiculously small numbers and expended with real prudence.

However, it is the ultimate training target, and the only one that can really properly prepare for russian and chinese-built supersonic anti-ship missiles. The reality is bitter, but true: most potential/likely future enemies, from Syria to Iran, use russian and chinese material, inclusive of fearsome supersonic anti-ship missiles. China, and now even Iran, have also developed Ballistic ship-killers. While doubts exist on the effective value of both systems (and in particular about the iranian one), they exist and are a very serious potential menace for which, at some point, we'll have to prepare. 

The Coyote is the only system worldwide that makes training against these threats possible. In the terminal approach phase, the GQM-163A flies at Mach 2.5 at 16 feet of altitude, providing unrivalled realism, and an ultimate challenge for the SAM system of a warship.
The latest variant of the drone, the High Diver, ascends to 35,000 feet and Mach 3.3 cruise under ramjet power, and executed the planned 40-degree unpowered dive to its objective point near the ocean’s surface at the end of its 110 mile journey.
Aerojet’s VFDR is also used in the original SSST configuration, but the CQM-163 needed guidance software modifications that let it operate at altitudes up to 50,000 feet.

The new variant appears perfect for simulating with acceptable realism even threats such as China’s Dong Feng 21D Anti-ship ballistic missile.