The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Navy successfully intercepted an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) target with an Aegis Ashore-launched Raytheon [RTN] Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor in the Pacific Ocean this week using an Aegis configuration being developed for Japan.
This operational live fire flight test, called Flight Test Integrated-03 (FTI-03), used an air-launched IRBM target fired from an Air Force C-17 from an ocean area thousands of miles southwest of Hawaii. The Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii demonstrated the Aegis Weapons System Engage on Remote capability by tracking and then intercepting the target with an SM-3 IIA.
The agency said that based on preliminary data, the test appeared to meet its objective. Program officials will continue evaluating the system performance based on telemetry and other data.
The test occurred during the night of Dec. 10 local Hawaii time and Dec. 11 Eastern time. This test was the first to successfully intercept an IRBM target from an Aegis Ashore site using the SM-3 IIA as well as the first successful SM-3 IIA engage on remote intercept.
The SM-3 IIA is being jointly developed by the U.S. and Japan and is expected to eventually be equipped on Aegis Ashore stations in Europe and in Japan.
The first of two planned Aegis Ashore systems in Europe was built at Deveselu, Romania and is currently operational with SM-3 IB interceptors.
MDA noted FTI-03 used remote ground, air, and space-based sensor data and command and control architecture linked through the Ballistic Missile Defense System’s Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) suite.
Aegis Combat System maker Lockheed Martin [LMT] underscored this was the first-ever test event combining Aegis Ashore engage on remote capability to use remote ground-based radar and discrimination sensor data from C2BMC to destroy an IRBM target with an SM-3 IIA.
The company said “the networked capability of the engage on remote technology provides an additional layer of defense to warfighters by providing even more time to react to threats.”
Lockheed Martin noted this test used the newest evolution of the system, Baseline 9.B2.0 (BMS 5.1). This baseline variant is being developed for deployment on Japan’s Aegis destroyers.
The company also said FTI-03 demonstrated the Aegis system’s new take down assessment functionality, bi-directional communications, and sensor improvement algorithms. It explained this capability “is an innovative take down assessment that uses infrared and sensor data correlation to achieve the mission.”
“This exercise showed that Aegis is the most advanced combat system and the proven choice for a layered defense,” Paul Klammer, director of Lockheed Martin Aegis BMD, said in a statement.
MDA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said the test demonstrated the effectiveness of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) Phase 3 architecture, which seeks to protect NATO allies from nuclear-armed ballistic missile threats.
“It also was of great significance to the future of multi-domain missile defense operations and supports a critical initial production acquisition milestone for the SM-3 Block IIA missile program,” Greaves said.
This test is the third successful Aegis intercept test in four months after two notable SM-3 IIA failures.
While the USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) successfully destroyed a ballistic missile target with an SM-3 IIA in early 2017 (Defense Daily, Feb. 6, 2017), that June the second SM-3 IIA intercept attempt failed when a sailor on DDG-53 accidentally directed the interceptor to break off and self-destruct (Defense Daily, June 23). Then, last January, an SM-3 IIA launched from Hawaii in an Aegis Ashore test missed its ballistic missile target (Defense Daily, June 23).
The January 2018 test was aimed at testing Aegis Ashore before Japan purchased the system as it increases defenses against North Korean ballistic missiles.
The Aegis intercept tests turned around earlier this year when the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Atago (DDG-177) successfully intercepted a ballistic missile target using an SM-3 Block IB in September (Defense Daily, Sept. 12). Then, in October, MDA successfully intercepted an MRBM target with an SM-3 IIA launched from the USS John Finn (DDG-113) using the Aegis Baseline 9.C2 system (Defense Daily, Oct. 26).