Missile Guidance Research at McGill

In between 1999 and at least 2006, McGill’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering was the site of research into the tracking of maneuvering targets; this research had a direct application to missile guidance systems. Dr. Hannah Michalska and a PhD student named Dany Dionne played leading roles. They collaborated with Lockheed Martin (a major manufacturer of guided missile systems), Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), and military researchers at the Technion in Haifa, Israel.

The Research

The work began in 1999 when Dr. Michalska and her graduate student, Benoit Jarry, collaborated with a researcher in the R&D department of Lockheed Martin as part of a project titled “Decision Aids for Airborne Surveillance” that received $230,600 in Canadian military funding. Jarry’s master’s thesis, which names the Lockheed Martin researcher, Alexandre Jouan, as his co-supervisor, describes the project as aimed at building an emulator for the fusion of data from multiple types of sensors aboard a surveillance aircraft.1 Research co-written in 2000 by Michalska, Jarry, and Jouan focused on an algorithm for tracking closely maneuvering targets.2

The research continued in the years that followed, with the involvement of Dr. Camille-Alain Rabbath, who was simultaneously a DRDC scientist and an adjunct professor at McGill. In 2004, Dr. Rabbath co-presented a conference paper discussing “guidance laws for the stabilization of missile trajectories.”3 The research was funded by the Canadian military, and in the paper, Rabbath attributes the research topic’s popularity to “a sustained interest in the development of improved precision weapons in recent years [...] due to the emergence of new  threats.”4

At around the same time, Dr. Michalska’s PhD student Dany Dionne makes an appearance. He and Michalska co-presented to the 2005 American Control Conference on pursuit-evasion scenarios involving maneuvering targets5 and, with Dr. Rabbath, presented new results on the same topic to the same conference the following year.6

One of the last papers co-written by Dionne and Dr. Michalska is perhaps the most explicit. Once again dealing with the topic of guidance laws and maneuvering targets, it devotes a section to “lethality” and uses the concept of a “lethal radius” to calculate whether an “interception” is successful; it also designates “single shot kill probability” as a “measure of performance.”6

The pace of McGill research in this area appears to have slowed after Dionne left the university to work for Lockheed Martin, but Dr. Michalska still teaches at McGill. As recently as 2012, a new research team in Electrical and Computer Engineering – professor Mark Coates and student Santosh Nannuru – partnered with a senior research scientist at Lockheed Martin to “address the problem of tracking multiple targets [...] based on measurements obtained from monitoring sensors”.7

Guided Missiles

The research appears to have been of interest to the military because of a desire for more reliable automated tracking of enemy aircraft, as well as missiles, whose paths come into close proximity with one another in potentially crowded airspace. Such research has clear applications to ground-to-air and air-to-air guided missile systems. Lockheed Martin, McGill researchers’ most frequent private partner, sells at least 21 distinct guided missile products  – including the shoulder-fired Javelin and the air-to-ground Hellfire II – to Western militaries. In 2012, the company’s missiles business segment generated $7.5 billion in sales.

The United States and its allies have used guided missiles developed by Lockheed Martin in various military campaigns, including the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. military has fired Hellfire missiles from Predator drones and used them to deliver thermobaric payloads to targets. Javelin missiles were used in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Israeli Missile Defense

Michalska and Dionne co-wrote a 2006 paper with Dr. Josef Shinar,8 a professor at the Technion in Haifa, and acknowledged “private communication” with him in a paper from 2007. These researchers’ links to Shinar and the Technion provide further clues as to the driving forces behind the wave of research into missile guidance.

Dr. Shinar is a leading Israeli researcher in the field of missil116664921__356125be guidance. Among his research interests, he lists “air combat analysis, development of advanced guidance laws for aircraft and missiles, [and] anti-ballistic missile defense.” He states that he turned his attention to the tracking of maneuvering targets following Scud missile attacks on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. Foreseeing the development of ballistic missiles that would perform evasive maneuvers to avoid interception, he appears to have helped lead a surge in academic interest in missile guidance aimed at optimizing guidance laws in view of the perceived threat. In 1997, he wrote a paper addressing “the urgent need to develop a new guidance concept for future anti-ballistic missile defense scenarios, where maneuvering tactical ballistic missiles are expected”.9

Such concerns have dominated Dr. Shinar’s work for nearly two decades; as recently as 2010, he presented to the Israel Multinational Ballistic Missile Defence Conference on “Defense from Randomly Maneuvering Ballistic Missiles“. Shinar conducted his research in the lead-up to, and throughout the design and deployment, of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system; in other words, his research was always going to have a direct military application. The work being done by Dr. Michalska and her student must have been relevant to his academic interests – which, as we can see, are complementary to the strategic interests of the State of Israel. Otherwise, Dr. Shinar probably wouldn’t have collaborated with them.

Research Cited

1. Jarry, Benoit. “An IMM-JVC Algorithm for Multi-Target Tracking with Asynchronous Sensors”, 2000.

2. Jouan, Alexandre, Hannah Michalska, and Benoit Jarry. “Tracking Closely Maneuvering Targets in Clutter with an IMM-JVC Algorithm”, 2000.

3. Lechevin, Nicolas, et al. “Synthesis of Lyapunov-based Nonlinear Missile Guidance for a Class of Maneuvering Targets”, 2004.

4. Dionne, Dany and Hannah Michalska. “An adaptive GLR estimator for state estimation of a maneuvering target”, 2005.

5. Dionne, Dany, Hannah Michalska, and Camille A. Rabbath. “A Predictive Guidance Law with Uncertain Information about the Target State”, 2006.

6. Dionne, Dany and Hannah Michalska. “Cost-Equivalencing Discretization of a Class of Bang-Bang Guidance Laws”, 2007.

7. Nannuru, Santosh, Mark Coates, and Ronald Mahler. “Computationally-Tractable Approximate PHD and CPHD Filters for Superpositional Sensors”, 2012.

8. Dionne, Dany et al. “Novel Adaptive Generalized Likelihood Ratio Detector with Application to Maneuvering Target Tracking”, 2006.

9. Shinar, Josef. “Requirements for a New Guidance Law Against Maneuvering Tactical Ballistic Missiles”, 1997.

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