MDA Succeeds In Fourth SM-3 IIA Intercept After Two Failures

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully conducted the fourth Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA intercept test on Friday, called Flight Test Standard Missile-45 (FTM-45), following two failures.

This latest test had a medium-range ballistic target missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. The Arleigh Burke-class USS John Finn (DDG-113) detected and tracked the target using its AN/SPY-1 radar with the Aegis Baseline 9.C2 weapon system.

The USS John Finn (DDG-113) launched an SM-3 Block IIA interceptor in the FTM-45 live-fire test to intercept a medium-range ballistic missile target off the waters West of Hawaii. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

The USS John Finn (DDG-113) launched an SM-3 Block IIA interceptor in the FTM-45 live-fire test to intercept a medium-range ballistic missile target off the waters West of Hawaii. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

MDA said after tracking the target it launched an SM-3 IIA missile that successfully intercepted the test target over the west coast of Hawaii.

“This was a superb accomplishment and key milestone for the SM-3 Block IIA return to flight. My congratulations to the entire team, including our sailors, industry partners, and allies who helped achieve this milestone,” MDA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said in a statement.

Lockheed Martin [LMT], which develops the Aegis combat system, said in a statement this test demonstrated the Baseline 9.C2’s new engagement assessment functionality, bi-directional missile communications, and sensor improvement algorithms.

This success comes after two failures in three previous live-fire tests. The first test in early 2017 in which a SM-3 IIA launched from the USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) successfully destroyed a ballistic missile target (Defense Daily, Feb. 6, 2017)..

Then, in June 2017, the second SM-3 IIA intercept attempt, targeting a medium-range missile target, failed when a sailor on the DDG-53 accidentally pressed a button directing the interceptor to break off and self-destruct (Defense Daily, June 23).

The most recent test (FTM-29) failed in January, where the missile defense system aimed at and missed a missile launched form an aircraft, also conducted near Hawaii (Defense Daily, Jan. 31).

Earlier this month, MDA said it found the likely reason why the January test failed was because a part called the Hybrid Arm and Fire Device (HAFD) did not ignite the third stage rocket motor (TSRM) (Defense Daily, Oct. 2).

After the investigation to the second failure, MDA said it and the Japan Minister of Defense were removing, procuring new, and replacing the TSRMs and second stage rocket motors to prevent future occurrences.

When MDA director revealed the findings of the second failure investigation, he repeated a frequent talking point that even when the system fails to intercept a target it demonstrates other capabilities. For example, he said FTM-29 still demonstrated the engage-on-remote capability.

Aerojet Rocketdyne [AJRD] said its MK 72 booster provided first-stage propulsion for Friday’s SM-3 and its Throttling Divert and Attitude Control System (TDACS) maneuvered the warhead for a kinetic impact with the target missile.

The SM-3 IIA is built by Raytheon [RTN] and being jointly developed by the company, the U.S. and Japan to defend against intermediate and medium-range ballistic missiles, like those that can be fired by North Korea or Iran. It has not been fielded by either country yet but is planned to be used in Aegis-capable ships and Aegis Ashore sites.

The Block IIA is longer range, has a larger kinetic warhead, uses larger rocket motors, and improved search, discrimination, acquisition, and tracking functions compared to the earlier Block IA and IB interceptor models.

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