The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) Munitions Directorate and Lockheed Martin [LMT] signed a five-year cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to assess the cooled seeker for integration onto Air Force weapon platforms.

The tri-mode seeker combines a semi-active laser sensor, an imaging infrared (2R) sensor and millimeter wave radar in a single seeker with a common aperture.

“We will work closely with Lockheed Martin to leverage their mature seeker technology with some of our novel in-house targeting concepts, said Buddy Goldsmith, chief of the U.S. Air Force’s Weapon Seeker Sciences Branch and Seeker Phenomenology Evaluation and Research (SPEAR) facility.

Over the next five years, Lockheed Martin and AFRL will work to assess tri-mode weapon capabilities, emerging targeting concepts and guidance techniques. Data and analysis from this work will allow AFRL to develop a baseline for integrating seekers onto future Air Force weapons platforms intended to engage stationary and mobile targets in all weather conditions day or night.

Frank St. John, vice president of tactical missiles in Lockheed Martin Missile and Fire Control, said the company is pleased the air service is interested in evaluating the seeker and pushing it to its operational limits.” We have continued developing and testing our seeker hardware and software for other customers and applications since the end of the Small Diameter Bomb II competition and we look forward to demonstrating our mature seeker still offers superior effectiveness at the best value.

At this time, Lockheed Martin is awaiting the results of the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) competition, with a contract award expected in the fourth quarter of this calendar year, with the program starting in the first quarter of calendar year 2012. Lockheed Martin is competing against Raytheon [RTN].

JAGM is expected to be a single missile solution for the services for rotary and fixed wing aircraft.

A major difference between JAGM competitors is in the tri-mode seeker, where Lockheed Martin offers a cooled seeker, while Raytheon’s missile is uncooled.

While the tri-mode seeker was first developed in 2001 for the Common Missile Program, it has a decade’s worth of improvements and opportunities to work on the design to make it more affordable, and reduce risk, St. John said. The tri-mode seeker builds on the combat proven- Javelin, Longbow and Hellfire missiles. The technology readiness level 9 missile seekers have been integrated into the tri-mode JAGM seeker, which now is at TRL 6.

Lockheed Martin conducted a trade study was done on the cooled versus uncooled seeker, St. John said. Uncooled seekers have to move into a potential “danger zone” to detect a threat, even as the threat is likely to detect the active search.

The Lockheed Martin cooled I2R sensor provides passive detection and lock-on-before launch from “ranges 50 percent greater than uncooled technology,” St. John said. That’s not something he thinks, he added, it’s something the analysis of physics says.

Another differentiation between the two kinds of seeker is in the materials that make up the dome covering the seeker. The uncooled seeker dome is made of “soft” materials, St. John said. Environmental effects of sand, dust and rain erode the material, meaning the dome must be replaced at some point.

The cooled seeker dome, by contrast is made of ceramics which withstands harsh environments.

Comparing costs of the two kinds of seeker, St. John said the cooled seeker is “marginally more costly, weighing about one to one and a half pounds more than the uncooled seeker.

At the same time, Lockheed Martin’s JAGM offering is not expected to increase costs over current missile inventories.

“We believe JAGM is on a par with Hellfire in terms of affordability,” St. John said. In part because of the decade since the inception of the common missile program and its evolution in to JAGM, which saw production costs drop, and affordability issues addressed.

St. John said the company has done its form-fit-function checks with the AH-64D Apache helicopter, the Marine’s ZH-1Z helicopter and the Army MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system. The JAGM is compatible with Hellfire II.

Boeing [BA] which produces the F/A-18E/F aircraft is under separate contract to support integration work on the fixed wing aircraft, and the Lockheed Martin JAGM successfully flew tests in October 2010. “No issues,” St. John said.