GQM-163 Coyote

Space technology firm Orbital Sciences has successfully launched its 40th Coyote supersonic sea-skimming target (SSST) vehicle for the US Navy.

The latest mission saw two consecutive launches of Coyote missiles from the Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii, where the missiles rail-launched from the coast and executed their planned flight patterns, delivering a successful target presentation.

Managed by the US Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the Coyote programme is aimed to provide an SSST system to simulate high-speed, anti-ship cruise missiles for fleet training and weapon systems research, development, tests, and evaluation.

Orbital Coyote programme manager Keven Leith said: "Tests of this nature can be costly for customers to conduct from a logistics standpoint.

"However, the Coyote’s low production cost and outstanding operational track record have provided an excellent value for our customers."

"Coyote’s low production cost and outstanding operational track record have provided an excellent value for our customers."

The Coyote programme launched the first test flight of the unguided target in January 2003, followed by six additional test-flights with enhanced capabilities later that year, and in 2004.

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The system started full operation in 2005, and has launched 40 targets so far.

It has also completed 34 low-altitude Mach 2.5-class flights since 2003. These missions included altitudes as low as 15ft, manoeuvrability up to 12 Gs of lateral acceleration, and ranges of up to 55nm.

Since 2010, the high-altitude variant of Coyote has completed six Mach 3.25-class flights, including altitudes up to 40,000ft, power dives at user-specified downward angles, and ranges up to 120nm.

The Coyote target missile is equipped with a four-inlet, solid-fuel ducted-rocket ramjet propulsion system in a compact missile airframe, while the target vehicle system has a range of approximately 50nm at less than 20ft altitude above the sea surface.

Image: The GQM-163A Coyote Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target test launch in May 2004. Photo: courtesy of US Navy.