By Michael Sirak

The Air Force has tasked Boeing [BA] to develop sensor technologies for the air-launched dual-role missile that the service envisions to deal both with hostile aircraft and ground targets in coming decades, the company said last week.

Under a $600,000 contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory, the company will mature the Seeker Integrated Target Endgame Sensor (SITES) as part of the broader lab- sponsored activities to advance critical component technologies for the future Joint Dual Role Air Dominance Missile (JDRADM).

“We believe SITES will help maximize the system’s lethality,” David Moos, Boeing’s program manager for the sensor, said in the company’s Oct. 5 statement. “This missile seeker will provide sufficient precision targeting to advance JDRADM technology.”

JDRADM is a notional weapon at this point; it is not yet a program of record. But the dual-role concept, which is still multiple years from fielding, represents the direction in which the Air Force intends to go to replace its current air-to-air missiles such as the Raytheon [RTN]-built AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile as well as its aircraft-launched missiles that are designed to thwart enemy air defenses, such as Raytheon’s AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile.

The new missile would be designed to defeat fixed-winged aircraft, rotorcraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles in addition to ground-based enemy air defenses. There is no such dual-role capability today.

Under Boeing’s new contract, the company said it will study and establish the requirements baseline for the SITES program, which will lead ultimately to a system architecture.

While the SITES contract may be comparatively small by Department of Defense standards, the work is another important piece in the JDRADM puzzle that Boeing has won in the past several years.

“SITES is a great example of providing advanced capability to the warfighter by leveraging the best of Boeing and our partners,” said Darryl Davis, vice president and general manager of Boeing Advanced Precision Engagement & Mobility Systems. “This is a key technology win that supports our long-term strategic initiative.”

The AFRL selected Boeing in May over Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Raytheon [RTN] to continue work under the Dual Role Air Dominance Missile-Technology (DRADM-T) initiative that is maturing the propulsion and control systems of the JDRADM (Defense Daily, June 1). The company received a $4.2 million contract at that time for 32 months of work.

In 2006, Boeing won work on the Multi-Role Responsive Ordnance Kill Mechanism (MR ROKM) warhead technology development program that also supports JDRADM.

“We have not been in the air-to-air missile business for some time,” George Muellner, president of Boeing’s Advanced Systems, said when discussing the dual-role missile concept with reporters at last month’s Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington, D.C. “We build air-to-ground weapons primarily. But in this particular case, some of the technology that we have had come out of other areas like missile defense…have allowed us to go out and win these technology programs.”

Mueller said it is yet to be determined whether Boeing would compete as the prime contractor in a future competition to build the dual-role missile or would partner with a traditional leader in manufacturing air-launched missiles.