Lockheed Martin has received a contract from the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to define the concept for a multi-object kill vehicle missile defence system.

Under the $9.7m contract, the company will develop a system concept for use on the interceptors used by the ground-based midcourse defence (GMD) element of the US ballistic missile defence system (BMDS).

Lockheed is expected to consider advanced sensor, communication, and divert-and-attitude control technologies and approaches. It will also identify methods to reduce technical risks.

This approach will expand the US defence against potential missile attacks, while reducing the number of interceptors to execute the mission.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems missile systems and advanced programmes vice-president Doug Graham said: "We will devise and explore the most effective solutions for destroying more than one warhead with a single interceptor, an important step in changing the cost curve for missile defence engagement.

"We will devise and explore the most effective solutions for destroying more than one warhead with a single interceptor."

"Our talented engineers will use out-of-the-box Silicon Valley thinking to create an ultra-high-performance system that will operate outside of the atmosphere while travelling thousands of miles per hour."

The system is likely to be capable of preventing an attack involving a single missile that releases a group of objects, including the warhead and decoys that are warhead look-alikes.

While the contract work is primary carried out at the company’s facility in Sunnyvale, California, engineering experts at its Huntsville, Alabama site will also contribute to the multi-object kill vehicle concept.

Designed to protect individuals by destroying an incoming missile before it reaches its destination, a kill vehicle is part of an interceptor that hits an incoming warhead, using force of impact alone to limit effects on the ground.

According to the company, all of the existing major US missile defence systems use the hit-to-kill force-of-impact technology pioneered by its Sunnyvale facility.

The company’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defence and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems have achieved more than 100 successful intercepts in combat and flight testing since 1984.