The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said it found the likely reason why a Raytheon [RTN] Standard Missile-3 Block IIA missile failed to intercept a target in a January test (FTM-29): a device did not ignite the third stage rocket motor (TSRM).

MDA and U.S. Navy sailors manning the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex in Hawaii attempted to conduct a live-fire missile intercept flight test using an SM-3 IIA, but the missile missed the test warhead. The test target was launched by an aircraft in Hawaii (Defense Daily, Jan. 31).

MDA director Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves said on Monday that the FTM-29 failure review board (FRB) finished on Aug. 27 and foumd the most likely cause was failure by a Hybrid Army and Fire Device (HAFD) on the TSRM prevented ignition of the third-stage rocket motor, preventing the kill vehicle from finishing the final stages of the kill chain.

An SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptor is launched from the USS John Paul Jones in a Feb. 2017 test called SFTM-1. Photo: Missile Defense Agency.
An SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptor is launched from the USS John Paul Jones in a Feb. 2017 test called SFTM-1. Photo: Missile Defense Agency.

Greaves said in a statement that while the FRM used “root cause analysis and corrective action verification testing” to determine the problem with the HAFD, the agency “was able to determine the kill vehicle attempted to complete the intercept, but without the TSRM propulsion, the intercept failed.”

Based on these findings, the MDA and Japan’s Ministry of Defense are “instituting appropriate corrective actions” such as removing, procuring new, and replacing TSRMs and the second stage rocket motors to avoid a repeat of this failure.

MDA did not disclose the supplier of the HAFD.

Greaves argued that while FTM-29 did not successfully intercept the target, it still demonstrated an ‘engage-on-remote’ capability, wherein a ground sensor tracked a target then remotely provided engagement-quality data to the Aegis Ashore system.

The Aegis system then used its upgraded software baseline and an operations crew for the first launch of an SM-3 IIA from an Aegis Ashore site. The two previous SM-3 IIA test launches came from an Aegis destroyer.

MDA, Japan, and Raytheon are jointly developing the SM-3 IIA to defend against medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, like the kind that could be fired against U.S. assets or allies by North Korea or Iran. It is planned to be installed on Aegis-capable destroyers and cruisers as well as the Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and in Poland.

The engage-on-remote capability is part of Phase 3 of the European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense system of Aegis-capable ships, land-based European radars, and Aegis Ashore missile defense sites in Romania and Poland. Phase 3 involves establishing the Aegis Ashore site in Poland with SM-3 IIA interceptors by around FY 2020. However, construction of the Poland site has been delayed due to construction contractor problems.

The Block IIA model has a longer range than the Block IA and IB interceptors; larger rocket motors to target more sophisticated threats; a larger kinetic warhead; and upgraded search, discrimination, acquisition, and tracking functions.

The SM-3 IIA has only had one successful test out of three live-fire intercept attempts. The first flight test successfully launched an interceptor from the USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) and destroyed a ballistic missile target in early 2017 (Defense Daily, Feb. 6, 2017).

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

In March, Greaves told Congress they plan to conduct an SM-3 IIA intercept test against an intercontinental ballistic missile(ICBM)-class target by December 2020 (Defense Daily, March 23).

Last month, MDA posted a pre-solicitation notice to FedBizOpps that said it plans to award a sole-source contract to Raytheon to build and deliver SM-2 IIA missiles from FY 2018 through 2023, possibly extending to FY 2027 (Defense Daily, Sept. 25).

The 2017 annual report by the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation expressed problems in the SM-3 program that may be related to the testing issues, finding the MDA missile ground test program may not adequately simulate the in-flight environment. It also said the overall SM-3 program may need to improve configuration management and control because software design flaws and an unapproved manufacturing process change were not detected until they caused test failures or were discovered in inspections a year after production (Defense Daily, Jan. 31).