The Navy’s new sub-sonic aerial target (SSAT), the BQM-177A, reached Initial Operational Capability on Feb. 27.

Built by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc.  [KTOS], the system is a recoverable target, acting as a high performance unmanned aircraft to replicate cruise missile threats to the Navy.

A BQM-177A Sub-Sonic Aerial Target (SSAT) prepares for flight test in May 2017 from Point Mugu, Calif. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
A BQM-177A Sub-Sonic Aerial Target (SSAT) prepares for flight test in May 2017 from Point Mugu, Calif. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The BQM-177A will replace the legacy recoverable BQM-74E target with more capabilities. The new target can reach speeds over 0.9 Mach and skim the sea at an altitude as low as 10 feet. It carries payloads including radio-frequency and infrared simulators to simulate the signature of other threat types, tow targets, and countermeasures.

“BQM-177A represents the current threats to our forces and delivers improvements in speed and maneuverability to the subsonic target inventory,” Capt. Molly Boron, Navy Aerial Targets (PMA-208) program manager, said in a statement.

“I am proud of the collaborative work between our subsonic integrated product team and the operators at Pacific Targets and Marine Operations for reaching this milestone,” she added.

The Navy said it will begin land-based operations in Point Mugu, Calif. When it reaches full operational capability, the BQM-177A will conduct both land and ship-based operations.

Steve Fendley, president of Kratos’ unmanned systems division, said in a statement the company “appreciate the team relationship we have enjoyed with our Navy customer in developing and advancing the system to this critical milestone.”

“We look forward to continuing to support the Navy for many years to come with the BQM-177A system and its abilities to replicate current and evolving threats,” he added.

Kratos delivered the first of 45 aircraft last July under a $37 million first year low-rate initial production contract. In February 2018 the Navy awarded Kratos a $24 million contract option for year two production covering another 30 aircraft (Defense Daily, July 12, 2018).

In year three, Naval Air Systems Command intends to purchase an additional 60 targets, which will be delivered from the second quarter of FY ’20 through the second quarter of FY ’21.

Fendley previously told Defense Daily he expects Kratos to produce 80-100 units per year for 20-40 years. The previous BQM-74E model were produced for several decades. He also said the BQM-177A will likely bring in $50 million – $100 million annually in revenue, which is a “pretty large percentage” of overall corporate revenue (Defense Daily, July 12, 2018).