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The Application of Proportional Navigation on Defensive Missiles

Sophia Majid

4 March 2019

Mt. Hebron High School

Intern Mentor GT

Dr. Melissa Kiehl


The John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab

Dr. Kerri Phillips

I. Abstract

[Add Abstract here in Quarter 4]

II. Introduction

Throughout the 20th and 21st century the U.S. military among others have been able to

innovate and understand guidance laws to increase success in missile trajectory. Guidance laws

are considered the ‘brain’ of the missile. The primary function of the missile guidance law is to

generate steering guidance commands based on some strategy which uses the missile and target

information as inputs ( Missile Guidance Laws, n.d.). The more sophisticated the ‘brain or

guidance law is, the more effective the missile is. ​Proportional Navigation is a classical guidance

law that is used to direct missiles to their target using the relative position, velocity and

acceleration of the target through a set of code that is continuously generated throughout flight.

ProNav limits a missile when the target is maneuvering and is best applied when the missile is

traveling through a linear slope​. Due to the limited amount of information on the fundamentals of

proportional navigation, this paper will define its basic kinematics, identify both limitations and

applications and describe how a missile responds to ProNav during its trajectory.

In World War II, countries had to risk many people's lives at war. Pilots drove

airplanes, projecting down into the target in order to demolish it. This tactic caused many

unnecessary deaths. Subsequently, the Germans invented the ‘airplane bomb’, which was

designed to fly and arrive to its destination by itself, without harming the ones who

programmed it. Airplane bombs, known as missiles now, are actively used in the US Military

to protect its citizens from other threats (Morris, 2010). These defensive missiles protect our

Naval ships, stopping an incoming missile attack on the ships. Debris would not necessarily

fall on other ships or land and hurt people. The missile would strictly save sailors’ lives (Kerri

Phillips, personal communication, February 2019). Without missiles, it would be extremely

difficult for the military to demolish dangerous threats. Furthermore, due to the immense use of

proportional navigation in missiles, guidance laws should be constructed and modified to work

for several situations along with having high levels of success rate.

III. Review of Literature

An essential component to understanding this paper is to be informed on the background

on how proportional navigation was created and works. Proportional navigation a guidance law

implemented in almost all tactical radar guided missiles. It is called proportional because the

acceleration command to the missile is directly proportional to the closing velocity and the slope

of the line of sight. This constant proportionality is called the effective navigation ratio (Morris,

2010). There are several different variations of Proportional Navigation including: augmented

proportional navigation, true proportional navigation, etc, all of which are manipulated

depending on the velocities and directions they are headed. There are also many guided missiles

that employ some version of proportional navigation as the guidance law during the terminal

homing phase including: “Surface-to-air, air-to-air, and air-to-surface missile engagements, as

well as space applications” (Palumbo, 28).

Proportional navigation guidance was derived from observation made by sailors. The

sailors observed from a moving ship that if another ship appears to be stationary and its

size appears to be growing, then there is a certainty of a future collision between the two ships.

Essentially these two conditions imply that the two ships are on a collision course, that there is

no relative velocity between the two ships perpendicular to the LOS and the ships are

approaching each other. These observations helped to later on establish the proportional

navigation law which states, n = NVλ, where n is the acceleration required in order to have a
collision. N is the effective Navigation ratio, always between 3-5. V is the missiles to target

closing velocity and λ, which is the time of rate of change of the line of sight angle. ProNav is

specifically designed to use acceleration commands to move the missile perpendicular to the line

of sight. When this is achieved, the line of site rate (​λ) turns ​toward zero, which will drive the

acceleration command toward zero, putting the missile on a collision course (United States Naval

Academy, n.d).

Proportional navigation is a guidance law is based on the fact that two objects (missiles)

are bound to collide if their line of sight does not change as the range closes ( Morris, 2010) To

understand this, consider the example of two cars approaching the same point from two different

directions. If the relative velocity of these two cars remains constant as they move towards the

same point (in technical terms, the bearing angle between these two cars does not change over

time as they close in), then they are on a collision course and therefore bound to collide. In a

proportional navigation system, the missile stays on a trajectory with a constant bearing angle to

the target(Morris, 2010). Unlike the pursuit guidance system, such missiles don’t pursue the

target; they just keep moving in a carefully calculated direction (keeping the angle between them

and the moving target, say, an aircraft, unchanged) with a constant velocity to eventually collide

into the target (Solomon, n.d.).

These sailors worked at ProNav at the RCA laboratory at the U.S. Navy under C. Yuan

and are credited for the discovery of proportional navigation. However, Germany had already

discovered this law during World War II, but never applied it to a missile. The U.S. Navy took

their discovery and implemented it into the Lark Missile, which was the first missile used

under Proportional Navigation(Fundamentals of Tactical Guidance, 9). Raytheon further

developed proportional navigation and implemented it in a tactical continuous wave radar

homing missile. Since then, proportional navigation has been modified in several different

ways to be used in tactical, radar and IR guided missiles. This guidance law is still applied is

due to its simplicity, effectiveness and implementation (United States Naval Academy, n.d).

Proportional navigation is applicable in several situations. A major advantage of using

proportional navigation, contributing to its longevity as a favored guidance scheme over the last

five decades, is its relative simplicity of implementation. The most basic proportional navigation

implementations require low levels of information regarding target motion as compared with

other more elaborate schemes, thus simplifying onboard sensor requirements (Palumbo, 29). The

advantage of proportional navigation guidance law lies in the fact that it is easy to mechanize,

requires easily obtainable information, therefore, being less prone to disturbances outside of the

system. The proportional navigation law also has farsightedness built into it due to the fact that it

tries to take corrective actions from the beginning. For an aerodynamically controlled missile,

the proportional navigation law may be considered as the optimal pursuit strategy because it

minimizes the terminal miss distance ( Missile Guidance Laws, 109).​ ​These applications and

limitations are dependent on how the missile responds to its law during its trajectory.

Although this guidance law is used in most tactical and radar missiles, it causes several

limitations in some scenarios. ​In a few instances, it depends on your navigation gain (N). The

missile could chase the target maneuvering and bleed off energy from your missile. Causing

difficulty for the missile to understand the course of the target, and not finding a way to get to it

in the time period with a limited amount of G’s. ​Most trajectories that are highly nonlinear have

shown to have limited success in solving these missions. (Palumbo, 29). In other words, the
proportional navigation guidance law does not perform well against maneuvering targets. The

reason is that though the proportional navigation law accounts for the target velocity implicitly, it

does not account for the target acceleration (Missile Guidance Laws, 109). Another limitation

of the basic proportional navigation system is its inability to cope with an accelerating target a

target that’s not moving at a constant velocity.

The applications and limitations of the guidance law can be determined by analyzing

proportional navigation in the last two missile trajectory phases. T​here are three phases that a

missile goes through in order to reach its target. The initial phase occurs when the missile is

boosted from the launch platform, already pre-programmed. ​This booster period lasts from the

time the missile leaves the launcher until the booster burns its fuel. In missiles with separate

boosters, the booster drops away from the missile at burnout. The objective of this phase is to

place the missile at a position in space from where it can either "see" the target or where it can

receive external guidance signals. During the boost phase of some missiles, the guidance system

and the aerodynamic surfaces are locked in position( Palumbo, 29).

Next, the midcourse phase maintains the correct missile course by detecting the target

and creating a line of sight to follow. ​During this part of the flight, changes may be required to

bring the missile onto the desired course and to make certain that it stays on that course. Also,

information can be supplied to the missile by any of several means. In most cases, the

midcourse guidance system is used to place the missile near the target, where the system to be

used in the final phase of guidance can take over.

As it gets closer to the target, the missile reaches the terminal phase. This is the most

crucial phase (Morris, 2010). ​The last phase of missile guidance must have high accuracy as well
as fast response to guidance signals. Missile performance becomes a critical factor during this

phase. The missile must be capable of executing the final maneuvers required for intercept

within the constantly decreasing available flight time. The maneuverability of the missile will be

a function of velocity as well as airframe design. Therefore, a terminal guidance system must be

compatible with missile performance capabilities.

This paper will only focus on the terminal phase due to the fact that the terminal phase is

the most crucial phase and the data received only represents that portion of the trajectory.

Moreover, proportional navigation does not make any noticeable changes to how the missile

works during the first and second phase.

IV. Research Methods and Data Collection

In order to gain a better understand of ProNav implemented in missiles, a MATLAB

simulation. A MATLAB subprogram, Simulink, was used to edit an existing a guidance system

simulation. A guidance system is a virtual or physical device implementing a guidance process

used for controlling the movement of a object. When given the target setting, if the target was

traveling at a linear or sinusoidal slope, target acceleration magnitude and the missile G limit,

how much acceleration the missile can provide in the trajectory, the guidance system calculated

the miss distance, the maximum distance at which the explosion of a missile head can be

expected to damage seriously its target, and the max maneuver, the acceleration in the

trajectory in which the missile was in maximum movement. In the model, the ProNav

equation, ​n = NVλ, ​was manipulated to calculate n, the acceleration required. Subsequently,

after inputting the target setting as 1 for linear or 2 for sinusoidal, the target acceleration

magnitude as 10 m/s ² or 20 m/s ² , the Nprime from 3-5 and the missile G limit as 20 G’s or 30
G’s into the code 24 times for a total 24 different scenarios. The model displayed three

different graphs per trial, one graph displayed the collision on a XYZ plane, another graph

displayed the collision on the Y plane, and another graph shows the amount of Gs

(acceleration) used, and the miss distance and maximum maneuver for each scenario. To

analyze the quantitative data from the graphs and outputs, a case matrix was created to

compare the different outcomes.

V. Results and Data Analysis

After the data collection was completed, the researcher was able to make a series of

graphs and a case matrix ( see apendix___) that visually could depict the results. The data

provided insight on the main objectives of ProNav, discover applications and limitations of the

guidance law and how the missile reacts to ProNav in the terminal phase. Upon completion of

data collection, the data was compiled to make a variety of conclusions about the limitations and

applications of ProNav. It was found that when the target setting is 1, for a linear slope, the miss

distance and maximum maneuver were lower, indicating a higher success rate. However, when

the target setting was at 2, for a sinusoidal slope, the miss distance and maximum maneuver were

higher, indicating a small rate of success( see appendix ___). It was also found that when the

target acceleration magnitude was equal to the missle G limit, the missile had a higher miss

distance ( see appendix ___). The two conclusions made displayed limitations discovered in the

guidance law tested.

Despite the negatives, it was established that when the missle G limit is greater than the

target acceleration magnitude, the miss distance was shorter ( see appendix __). When the

Nprime was 5 in target setting 1, the miss distance and maximum maneuver were relatively
smaller( see appendix __). This same conclusion was found for target setting 2, but the missile

performed better with a effective navigation ratio of 3 (see appendix __).

Even though ProNav has farsightedness built into it and takes corrective actions from the

beginning, am approaching non maneuvering target, there is still a G-limit that only provides a

certain amount of latex. The graphs ( see appendix ___) show that ProNav demands a high

G-limit during the terminal phase to accurately intercept the target.

VI. Discussion/ Conclusion

There are a large quantity of guidance laws that can be implemented in missiles for to

project high success rates. The research paper has concluded that Proportional Navigation is a

guidance law that is best used for non-maneuvering targets, but can be used on some

maneuvering targets. The paper has also showed how the guidance law works in the last phase of

missile trajectory and that the missile was limited when the missile G-limit was equal to the

target acceleration magnitude. It discussed the importance of the effective navigation ratio and

the line of sight angle. The insights in the paper have shown how and when to implement

proportional navigation into a missile and how this guidance law is designed to work in its

trajectory. The insights made signify the importance of understanding how this guidance law

works, due to its immense use in tactical and radar missiles ( Fundamentals of Tactical

Guidance, n.d). It also shows what components of the law need to be innovated to bring a high

success rate when prepared to do its job, intercept offensive missiles to save others lives.

Nevertheless, the paper did not cover several concepts causing many limitations to the claims

made. This includes not adding the effect of gravity and wind resistance on the missile during the

simulation calculation, not discuss using manipulated types of proportional navigation guidance
laws, and not showing the calculation of the outputs: miss distance and maximum maneuver.

Further research should be conducted in order to figure out implementations of other guidance

laws, how to overcome the limitations in proportional navigation and how the air resistance and

gravity affect the intercept of the missile and target.

VII. Appendix
Graph 12
Graph 24
Graph 19
Graph 7
Graph 22
Graph 1
Graph 3
VIII. References

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Fundamentals of proportional navigation [PDF file]. Retrieved from Cornell Aeronautical

Laboratory, Inc.

Fundamentals of tactical guidance. (n.d.). [ PowerPoint Slides ] Retrieved from,,SSL





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Morris, G. (2010).Guidance of missiles​ ​[Class handout]. Retrieved from CAMS.

Morris , G. (2010). Chapter 7: Missile guidance laws [Class handout]. Retrieved from CAMS.

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