Detection and Tracking of Hypersonic Missiles from Glide-to-Terminal Phase Using Electro-Optic Infrared Sensors

Navy SBIR 23.1 - Topic N231-020
NAVAIR - Naval Air Systems Command
Pre-release 1/11/23   Opens to accept proposals 2/08/23   Closes 3/08/23 12:00pm ET

N231-020 TITLE: Detection and Tracking of Hypersonic Missiles from Glide-to-Terminal Phase Using Electro-Optic Infrared Sensors

OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): General Warfighting Requirements (GWR);Hypersonics;Microelectronics

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop and demonstrate novel early-warning detection and tracking methodology of hypersonic missiles transitioning from glide-to-terminal phases, using airborne electro-optical Infrared (EO/IR) sensor suite.

DESCRIPTION: Hypersonic missiles [Ref 1] are emerging threats that are likely to penetrate current anti-missile shield systems. Within the last few years, U.S. adversaries [Refs 1-3] have fielded early versions of hypersonic weapons that can travel faster than five times the speed of sound and potentially put U.S. naval assets at great risk.

Therefore, earlier detection and tracking of the incoming hypersonic missiles—especially in their final and terminal phases—is very crucial to an overall and effective hypersonic missiles countermeasure strategy. However, radar detection is not a viable and effective surveillance and reconnaissance tool for detection and tracking [Refs 2 & 3]. When an aerial vehicle is traveling at hypersonic speed through the atmosphere, a plasma sheath envelops the aerial vehicle because of the ionization and dissociation of the atmosphere surrounding the vehicle. The plasma sheath absorbs radio waves and thereby rendering the vehicle practically invisible to active radar systems.

There have been recent technological advances in EO/IR sensors with improved materials, manufacturability, greater wavelength capabilities, and improved spectral responsiveness in all spectral bands. From ultraviolet to long wavelength IR sensors with extremely low background noise performance, an EO/IR sensor suite with multiple spectral bands are excellent surveillance and reconnaissance candidates as augmentation sensors to existing hypersonic missile defense detection and tracking systems and/or existing airborne EO/IR sensors [Ref 4]. For instance, when a hypersonic aerial vehicle is travelling through the atmosphere at speeds of Mach 5 or higher, it encounters intense friction with the surrounding air. The nose cone and the leading edges of the flight vehicle will experience extremely high temperatures up to 3000–5000 °F (1648.89–2760 °C). The extreme temperatures of a vehicle’s leading edges and the exhaust plumes of the missile engine provide a very strong IR heat signature in stark contrast against its colder background, dramatically enhancing its detectible and identifiable signatures [Ref 5].

Therefore, similar to the methodology of large aircraft infrared countermeasure (LAIRCM) platform, of which the electro-optical missile-warning sensor is, designed to provide missile-warning capability to protect large military aircraft from IR-guided heat-seeking missiles. This SBIR topic seeks an EO/IR sensor suite solution on manned or unmanned aerial platforms to detect, identify, and track hypersonic missiles during their transition from glide phase to terminal phase. The expected capabilities can include sensor fusion of multiple spectral bands, and high-speed multisensor data processing aided by artificial intelligence and machine learning. The proposed physical EO/IR sensor suite should be compatible with, and integrated with, the existing EO/IR sensors on board naval aerial platforms.

Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. owned and operated with no foreign influence as defined by DoD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) formerly Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances. This will allow contractor personnel to perform on advanced phases of this project as set forth by DCSA and NAVAIR in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advanced phases of this contract.

PHASE I: Design and demonstrate the feasibility of a multispectral EO/IR signature model for hypersonic missile systems to define the requirements for airborne EO/IR sensor suites, sensor fusion, and multisensor data processing. Use hypersonic aerial platform flight profiles, plasma sheath distribution surrounding a hypersonic missile, and expected EO/IR signatures available in the public domain literatures for the design. Develop the conceptual EO/IR sensor suite system concepts. Identify strengths/weaknesses associated with the proposed solutions, methods, and concepts. Define the most viable approaches that can maximize the probability and minimize the false alarm rates of detection and tracking of hypersonic missiles. Include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.

PHASE II: Continue development and refinement of the airborne sensor suite system concept with detection and tracking algorithms using the Navy-provided aerial platform and hypersonic missile information. Characterize the EO/IR sensor suite and algorithm in a relevant operating environment, and improve and upgrade the system design based on the required system performance in terms of accuracy and false alarm rates of detection and tracking. Deliver the finalized system design and the associated detection and tracking algorithm at the end of Phase II.

Work in Phase II may become classified. Please see note in Description paragraph.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Complete development, perform final testing, and integrate and transition the final solution to naval EO/IR sensors systems.

The algorithmic approaches based on the selected EO sensors could be utilized by a very wide variety of airborne and space-based EO sensor systems for the detection and tracking of very high-speed aerial vehicles.


1.       Sayler, K. M. (2021, July 9). R45811: Hypersonic weapons: Background and Issues for Congress (Version 20 Updated). Congressional Research Service.

2.       Stilwell, B. (n.d.). Why Russia's hypersonic missiles can't be seen on radar. Retrieved August 19, 2021, from,invisible%20to%20active%20radar%20systems.

3.       Perrett, B., Sweetman, B., & Fabey, M. (2014, January 27). U.S. Navy Sees Chinese HGV as Part of Wider Threat. Aviation Week.

4.       Künzner, N., Kushauer, J., Katzenbeißer, S., & Wingender, K. (2010, November). Modern electro-optical imaging system for maritime surveillance applications. In 2010 International WaterSide Security Conference (pp. 1-4). IEEE.

5.       Department of Defense. (2006, February 28). DoD 5220.22-M National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (Incorporating Change 2, May 18, 2016). Department of Defense.


KEYWORDS: Detection; Tracking; Hypersonic Missiles; Glide Phase; Terminal Phase; EO Sensors; electro-optical; infrared; EO/IR

TPOC-1: KK Law

Phone: (760) 608-3370


TPOC-2: Chandraika (John) Sugrim 

Phone: (904) 460-4494


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the Navy Topics in the DoD 23.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

The DoD issued its Navy 23.1 SBIR Topics pre-release on January 11, 2023 which opens to receive proposals on February 8, 2023, and closes March 8, 2023 (12:00pm ET).

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