Lockheed Martin Missile Launch Detection Program

Prior to the formation of LightWorks Optics, the company’s founding members worked closely with Lockheed Martin during the late 1980s as key architects of the optical design for the AN/AAR-56 Missile Launch Detection (MLD) system used on the F-18 fighter jet. As one of the military’s key defensive systems for high-speed fixed-wing aircraft, the MLD system is capable of providing long-range, 360-degree detection and declaration of both airborne and surface-launched guided missile threats. Mounted on the skin of the aircraft, the MLD system is a complex network of optical components and assemblies that includes six sensors, each with seven lenses, three computer-interfacing processing cards, a high performance CID array, and a low-observable window frame assembly.


Next Generation Technology

By the turn of the new millennium, the U.S. Air Force was in development of a newer, faster, more high- performance fighter aircraft—the F-22. As a result, the technologically advanced aircraft would require an immediate upgrade to the existing MLD system which included, among other things, a new infrared lens assembly with strict tolerance specifications of 0.00004—well above tolerance levels currently used in the industry. Further, after the validation of seven new prototypes, Lockheed Martin would release the first Lot of 100 assemblies for fabrication under an extremely tight deadline and budget framework.

The aerospace manufacturing giant turned to LightWorks Optics and their proven optical engineering, diamond turning and testing expertise to help them with the planned product improvement. But the challenge was clear— the project team must create an opto-mechanical design with the tightest tolerances ever achieved in the industry to date, while also achieving a high level of manufacturability and cost-efficacies.


Setting New Standards for Design, Testing and Production

The task was formidable and would demand a new standard of innovative design, testing and production methods. Having already developed a revolutionary “tolerance balancing” process a few years earlier, LightWorks Optic’s design engineers were anxious to get started on the re-design. During the design process, they were able to improve the design to completely eliminate internal moving parts used previously for thermal compensation, as well as find a solution for achieving the strict tolerances required to guarantee system performance. The project team also developed a custom assembly process that allowed the final MLD system sub-assemblies to be integrated in just 30 seconds, with final testing completed in two hours, with a 98% production yield.

Not only did the new MLD system provide 25 times more accuracy in internal alignments compared with typical systems, the new completely passive design significantly improved infrared detection and passive thermal reliability. This project paved the way for Lockheed Martin to now achieve timely, high-quality volume shipments— from a single supplier.

For more information about how LightWorks Optics can help meet your optical design and production challenges, please call 714.247.7180 or email info@lwoptics.com.

Sign up for the II-VI Optical Systems newsletter