Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Coyote - Supersonic Sea Skimming Target

Here’s another small piece of good news as reported by Defense Industry Daily.  The Navy has issued a $26M contract for seven production versions of the GQM-163 Coyote Supersonic Sea Skimming Target.  This is a supersonic target drone used to simulate the SS-N-22 Sunburn and other supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles.  The Navy has been under pressure for many years to come up with a capable drone that can realistically mimic the threats that are out there.

Coyote - Supersonic Drone

Coyote travels at Mach 2.5 and 20 ft above the surface and has a range of around 60 miles.  It can also perform supersonic popup and terminal dive maneuvers.  The missile is replacing the MQM-8 Vandal.

I've stated in previous posts that realistic training is sorely lacking in the Navy today despite being a potentially tremendous force multiplier.  This kind of target drone can be one element of the kind of realistic training so desperately needed.  Of course, it needs to be used properly and not simply served up as pre-determined, set-piece exercise that accomplishes nothing.

Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction.  Now, Navy, buy a bunch more!


  1. I remember asking at, grand logistics maybe, why these drones are so expensive.
    The missiles are less than that!

  2. That's an excellent question and I have no answer. I'll keep an eye out for explanations.

  3. There is a variety of reasons while targets tend to be so expensive. I am not sure that all of the reasons apply to the Coyote, but here are some of them:
    1. They are purchased in small numbers (notice something like seven are purchased) so limited economy of scale and high overhead.
    2. There is usually a lot more in the contract than just the targets, so the unit price seems high because it includes other equipment.
    3. They have sophisticated telemetry packages so you can reconstruct things.
    4. They have equally sophisticated control systems that allow them to be controlled and destroyed if required. It also allows them to simulate a variety of missiles as opposed to just one type. It is much harder to be able to act like a missile but miss a target than it is to try to hit the target. How expensive would it be if one of these flew into the side of a ship?
    5. Not sure if these are recoverable, but the recovery system (floats, parachutes, etc) are not cheap either. Plus the drone has to be strong enough to be used multiple times. I would guess these are expendable like the Vandal.
    6. Just the testing and paperwork to meet MILSPEC requirements are pretty expensive, to do it for just seven targets makes it much more expensive.

    And just a note, the reason they do pre-determined set-piece missile firing exercises is to achieve the test requirements for the missile and sensors and not to train the crew. The crew should arrive fully trained. It costs a small fortune to test missiles, analyse the data, and determine engineering changes to better mach the threat which is why decent synthetic training is so important.

    1. Great explanation of the likely factors contributing to the cost. Thanks! I had assumed that these would be single use, expendable targets but I can see how it might be desirable to use them several times before finally expending them.

      Regarding training. While the theory of the crew arriving fully trained is valid on paper, the reality is that this does not occur and is probably not even possible. Crews must face as realistic a threat as possible to learn how to handle the stresses of combat. Recall the performance of the supposedly highly trained CIC crew on the Vincennes. Amazing what stress will do to performance.

      I understand that weapons systems need to be tested independent of crew performance and set piece exercises are useful for that, however, in combat it's going to be the entire ship, weapons and crew, with the crew being the controlling factor, that will have to function properly. That requires realistic, stressful training not set piece exercises. System exercises should be independent of crew training.

      Also, I'm not quite sure what you mean by synthetic training? Do you mean simulator training?

      Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Synthetic training is basically a simulator using the ships normal systems. Given the digitization of the current ships systems, you can simulate virtually the entire battle without getting underway and/or firing the weapons. One of the real selling points of remote systems like the MK38mod2 is that you can train a gunner while shooting only a few rounds (just enough to ensure the system works and the gunner knows what it is like) instead of requiring hundreds of rounds to develop a proficient gunner.

      The VINCENNES is an interesting issue. In my opinion, the Vincennes is a good example of why you have to train people just as hard to not fire as you do to fire.

    3. The Air Force found that as simulator training increased, so did mishaps. They concluded that there is simply no substitute for the stress and adrenalin produced in the cockpit. They only way you learn to deal with stress is by training in it.

      Simulators are a great complement to, not replacement for, real world, hands-on training.

      In the chemical industry (my background before guiding the Navy), we would train operators to deal with toxic chemical spills. We extensively used paper training and computer based simulations (video game-like graphical scenarios). The operators would routinely ace the scenarios, doing everything perfectly. Inevitably, though, when we placed the operators in a plant and told them a real spill had occurred (actually water leaking from tanks and smoke candles to simulate toxic clouds but they didn't know that) they totally mishandled the situation from A to Z with most of them managing to "kill" themselves and others. The point is that once stress is introduced, training falls apart. You can learn to function in high stress environments but only if you train in it.

      Simulations are great to learn fundamental concepts or to maintain an edge on existing skills but you must perform extensive and realistic hands-on training. There's a reason why naval aviators qualify on the carrier rather than a simulator.

    4. So dont tell them its a simulation?

      Crew are on patrol.
      Captain sat on his chair, types a command in to his console, and a training simulation activates.

      Until told otherwise, all computer inputs and outputs no longer use real information, but those of a simulation.
      Obviously, cant do it for a fighter pilot, but a modern navy is never going to "see" the enemy, just its own computer outputs.


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