The Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA, a new, longer-range variant of the SM-3 interceptor, has achieved its first shoot-down of a ballistic missile target, according to the United States Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and its industry partners.
During a Feb. 3 test, a medium-range ballistic missile target was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii, at 10:30 p.m. local time. The USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53), a destroyer positioned northwest of the range and equipped with the latest version of the Aegis weapon system, detected and tracked the missile and fired an SM-3 Block IIA, which destroyed the target off the west coast of Hawaii.
MDA, Japan and Raytheon [RTN] are jointly developing the SM-3 Block IIA, which will be deployed on land and at sea starting in 2018 to defend against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, such as those that could be fired by Iran or North Korea. Lockheed Martin [LMT] supplies the Aegis weapon system and provided the target used in the test, called the Standard Missile-3 Block IIA Cooperative Development Flight Test Maritime-1 (SFTM-1).
The “test demonstrates a critical milestone in the cooperative development of the SM-3 Block IIA” interceptor, said Navy Vice Adm. Jim Syring, MDA’s director. The interceptor “will ultimately improve our ability to defend against increasing ballistic missile threats around the world.”
Compared to earlier versions of the SM-3, the Block IIA’s larger kinetic warhead, which incorporates improved search, discrimination, acquisition and tracking functions, and its larger rocket motors will allow the interceptor to engage more sophisticated threats and protect larger regions, according to Raytheon.
The SM-3 Block IIA “has over twice the range of the current SM-3 Block IA and IB interceptors deployed today on 33 U.S. Aegis Ships, four Japanese Kongo-class Ships and one Aegis Ashore site in Romania,” the Missile Defense Advocacy Allliance said. The new interceptor will allow “U.S. and Japanese ships to stand off coast lines at great distances near threat regions, providing much more operating area to do multiple missions rather than be tethered in single-mission operations.”
The SM-3 Block IIA flew twice before in non-intercept tests. Its next intercept attempt is scheduled for the spring and will be similar to SFTM-1, an MDA spokesman said.