The Su-25 RPVT is a 1/5th scale target replica of the 'Frogfoot'

Two views of the Su-25 RPVTs used by the US Marine Corps

Type: sub-scale target drone



Powerplant: 1 x 100 cc piston two-cycle reciprocating engine

Significant date: late 1980s

Please note that although Burt Rutan is said to have collaborated on a "SU-25 ROAR" decoy developed by Sandia Laboratories, this is in no way related to the RPVT program. This page has been placed on this site for strict information purposes but does NOT describe anything Burt Rutan or Scaled Composites have been associated with.

Beginning in June 1979, RS Systems supplied the U.S. Army with its very simple and low-cost FQM-117A RCMAT (Radio-Controlled Miniature Aerial Target) for surface-to-air defense training. More than 100,000 FQM-117 targets of all versions (which consisted in scale representations of Russian aircraft) were delivered to the U.S. Army, but in the role of low-cost aerial target model aircraft they have now been replaced by the much more versatile and realistic RPVTs (Remotely Piloted Vehicle Target), a program launched in 1983 (the last RCMAT types being phased out as late as FY 1999).

In 1988 the U.S. Army Missile Command (AMCOM) assigned the designation MQM-143A to a 1/5th scale representation of the MiG-27 produced by Continental RPV. This seems to be no longer in use, but the U.S. Army is currently using 1/5th scale models of the Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot and the Mil Mi-24 Hind-D helicopter, which probably received MQM-143B and C designators (although there is no evidence of this).

RPVTs are highly maneuverable aircraft capable of executing attack profiles in a live fire environment. Both aircraft are capable of carrying a twenty-pound payload for duration of 30 minutes and are controllable at a distance of three kilometers. All RPVTs are operated in a similar fashion. A mechanical, pneumatically operated zero-length launcher, capable of being towed by a government vehicle, is used for launch. The targets are recovered by a skid or belly landing (optional modification for parachute recovery is possible). Control was via a hand-held remote control, and the latest models included a GPS waypoint navigation system for autonomous flight.

Mission equipment can include all sorts of radar, IR source for missile system acquisition, and visual augmentation devices or scoring systems. The RPVTS (for Remotely Piloted Vehicle Target System) can also accommodate multiple-integrated laser engagement systems and air-to-ground engagement systems (MILES and AGES) surrogate equipment, including a laser device system with a hit-kill visual smoke signal and a shoot-back device air-to-ground engagement system. With MILES there is no need to fire live bullets at the target, because the air-defense systems used for training are equipped with low-energy lasers, which are "fired" at the target. When the latter's hit indicator detects a laser pulse, it will give visual hit feedback (e.g. a smoke trail). The RPVTs can also be fitted with AGES (Air-to-Ground Engagement System), which provides a "shoot back" capability using an eye-safe low-power MILES laser.

RPVTS are also used by other services such as the U.S. Marine Corps in smaller numbers, and even foreign units participating in international exercises such as Roving Sands use the Su-25 surrogate targets to fire Stingers. RPVTs are a means by which the Army and the other military services provide training to short range air defense units in countering airborne threats at a reasonable cost; specifically, RPVTs permit live fire engagements by forces equipped with various missile and gun weapons systems.

The only acceptable aerial target for AMCOM is the one-fifth-scale target. The 1/5th scale RPVTS currently in use are being provided to support Army training under a contractor owned, contractor operated, flight service program. One-fifth scale targets are used to support live fire engagements at both CONUS and OCONUS training sites. The targets are government owned and contractor operated.The SU-25 Frogfoot and the 1/5th scale Mi-24 Hind-D gyrocopter target are provided as training aids for units rotating at the National Training Center (NTC) located at Fort Irwin, California and for air defense training for several weapon systems such as Chapparal, BSFV or MANPADS. Both configurations are also used to support Stinger, Avenger and Linebacker live fire training missions.

Three requirements support target engagements: For device gunnery, one-fifth scale targets need PGS retroreflectors and smoke; for Stinger and 25-mm live aerial engagements, targets need infrared (IR) source and miss-distance indicator (MDI) scoring systems; for each of the following weapons, place targets at the stated ranges: 25-mm targets (500 to 1,600 meters), coax targets (300 to 700 meters) and aerial targets (1,000 to 5,000 meters). The 1/5th scale targets are required to support TADSS, gunnery, and live fire exercises. For FY99 the total number of 1/5th scale targets needed to support this training was 610, based on 30 missions flown. The availability of the target is programmed through the unit-training plan and supported by the Targets Management Office, STRICOM.

These target types can be configured to support various training scenarios using ancillary devices attached to the body of the airframe:

  • PGS Retro Reflectors can be attached to the airframe for use with the Precision Gunnery System (PGS) which provides a non-destructive means to engage the target and receive realistic, real time feedback regarding gunnery hit or miss
  • The scoring system consists of a device which is installed on the 1/5th Scale targets, and a ground station which provides a real time readout of hits on target and miss distance indication of rounds penetrating an electronic field around the target. Data telemetry to the ground station permits real time feedback.
  • Infrared Pods can be attached to the targets to provide an enhanced IR signature for use with weapons systems equipped with IR seeker technology.
  • The Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) is a device similar in some respects to the PGS system in that it is a non-destructive system for simulation engagements.

A third generation of scale targets was apparently contracted in 2002 under the ADA Subscale Training Target program. Continental RPVs was to become the sole source for all scale targets, with a request for 75 targets delivered per month yet after a sustained protest, the Army made a revised best value determination and affirmed the earlier award to Griffon Aerospace, Inc. The solicitation required not only design and engineering services for the RPVT system, but also the production of an estimated 2000 RPVT units and extensive operational services. In addition to the design and production of an estimated 400 RPVTs annually, the solicitation also required the successful offeror to provide operational support services (e.g., flight operations, maintenance services, equipment security). Several companies filed suits against the AMCOM over the way the contractor was chosen, and a final decision doesn't seem to have been reached yet.

Population: unknown (probably several thousand)

Scale : 1/5th
Wingspan : 3.20 m (10 ft. 6 in.)
Minimum speed : 64 km/h (40 mph)
Maximum speed : 162 km/h (101 mph)
Weight : 18,5 kg (41 lb.)
Payload : 25 lbs.
Range : 3 km
Endurance (at max. speed) : 30 min
Fuel : Gas/oil
Tank capacity : 32 oz. (STD)

Crew/passengers: none

Main sources:
- Article on MQM-143A by Andreas Parsch
- Training devices and aerial targets at the FAS website
- U.S. Army Targets Management Office presentation
- Air Defense Advanced Tables
- System Training Plan for MANPADS Crew Member
- The Army Lawyer, January 2005 issue