Putting the Nation’s Most Critical Defense Systems to the Test

Leveraging a Legacy of Expertise to Verify the Nation’s Defense Systems

rendering of missile being intercepted

By Presley Price

The U.S. government and defense industry are working hand-in-hand to develop, deliver and sustain solutions that protect the homeland against hypersonic missile threats. Northrop Grumman recognizes that missile defense is a key component of the U.S. strategic deterrence strategy, and the Missile Defense Agency has deployed proven end-to-end missile defense solutions that stand watch 24/7.

One of the most critical steps in developing and sustaining missile defense solutions is systems testing to ensure they are effective in the event of an attack. Robin Heard leads a team at Northrop Grumman that designs and produces sophisticated test missiles that replicate global missile threats.

“The best way to sharpen the country’s defense systems is to pair them against high-performing target vehicles. The cost-effective targets we provide emulate realistic threats we face from adversaries.” 
— Robin Heard
Director, Northrop Grumman’s Targets Operating Unit
two missiles being launched from earth

Proven Portfolio Tailored to Customer Requirements

Northrop Grumman is the leading provider of target launch vehicles used to test the nation’s most critical defense systems. The company’s portfolio of targets ranges from common threat vehicles to custom-designed launch vehicles that emulate specific threats. Designed with modularity in mind, each target is manufactured with the ability to quickly and cost effectively adjust the vehicle’s speed, distance, trajectory, launch method and payload to execute a wide variety of missions.

three technicians working on high tech equipentment

A Legacy of Expertise

Northrop Grumman offers end-to-end missile defense capabilities to support national security. The company’s forward-leaning, pioneering spirit is backed by a legacy of expertise that began at the dawn of the space age.

“Our mission expertise runs deep, we know our customers well and our capabilities are unmatched. This allows us to provide reliable, agile and affordable target vehicles to support our customers’ most critical missions,” said Brian Mullet, program director, Short and Medium Range Missile target vehicles, Northrop Grumman.

Leveraging a proven track record of success, Northrop Grumman combines advanced technology with repurposed motors and technologies from its heritage programs to produce affordable, high-performing targets.

“Our philosophy has always been to leverage commonality at the right level,” said Brian. “We have designed and procured an inventory of components we’re able to plug and play across programs that meet the requirements of all of our skyline environments, boost reliability and drive down manufacturing time and cost,” said Brian.

Combining Old & New

The company’s culture of agility and innovation tie back to its experience building target vehicles before and after the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1988 by Ronald Reagan. The treaty contained restrictions on the development of new solid rocket motors (SRM) and other missile launch support equipment. To comply with the treaty, the company became accustomed to combining new technologies with old to further the nation’s missile defense solutions.

“Building target vehicles is similar to using building blocks,” said Brian. “You can often pair new and older blocks together to create the best solution for the customer. Many of the historic SRMs are every bit as capable and reliable as newer technology.”

The tradition of mixing new and old continues today. In 2021, Northrop Grumman brought the production line for the CASTOR® IVB SRM back to life after 10 years of inactivity to produce rocket motors for target vehicles. Brian explained the CASTOR IVB is the ideal SRM for its utility and proven history of high performance for target missions. Northrop Grumman recently completed a successful static test fire of a CASTOR IVB motor, the first time a motor of its kind has been test fired since 1990. The test qualified the upgraded motor design that addressed material obsolescence of previous CASTOR IVB motors as well as the production line itself.

Learn more about the CASTOR® Rocket Motor

Video: CASTOR IVB Static Test

missile being lifted into place for testing in highbay

Foundational Infrastructure

From design and development to production, test and launch – Northrop Grumman’s unique end-to-end development cycle of propulsion systems and launch vehicles ensures an optimized schedule, reduced overall cost, and products that meet the unique mission requirements of each customer. In the last decade alone, the company has developed more than 20 medium to large SRM configurations, 17 target vehicles and 6 space launch vehicles.

Northrop Grumman’s propulsion systems are manufactured across five locations in Utah, Maryland and West Virginia and include more than 7.5-million-square-feet of manufacturing and office space, spanning over 31,000 acres combined. Northrop Grumman’s target vehicles are produced in Chandler, Arizona and Utah and the company operates more than two dozen launch sites around the globe, providing launch capabilities that meet the demands of any mission.

As the company anticipates significantly expanding and increasing SRM production count by 2030, it’s constructing 13 new buildings and modifying 16 more to add over 500,000-square-feet of new manufacturing space and approximately 100,000-square-feet of newly renovated space to support new and existing programs. The expansion and modernization of manufacturing facilities will optimize the infrastructure in a way that enables increased capacity, scalability, capability, and enhanced overall production and performance.

“Being part of a team that ensures our homeland defense systems are proven and effective is what drives us every day. We have confidence in the nation’s deployed capability, and we’re proud to aid in the qualification and verification of the missile defense systems of the future.”
— Robin Heard
Director, Northrop Grumman’s Targets Operating Unit
rocket motor being tested

Commercial Solid Rocket Motors