By B.C. Kessner

Raytheon‘s [RTN] Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) begins sea-based flight testing this month, keeping the program on track for initial operational capability (IOC) in 2011, the company said Monday.

“We’re going to sea, and we’re going to sea next week,” Daniel Lambert, the company’s senior manager for SM-6 business development, told reporters recently during the Navy League’s annual Sea, Air, Space conference at National Harbor.

Dubbed the Extended range Air Defense Missile, the SM-6 is being developed to target long-range cruise missiles and other threats.

“We delivered six demonstration missiles to the Navy earlier this year for the demonstration…this on a contract that was signed five years ago…we are on budget and on schedule,” Lambert said.

The missiles will be shot over the next two weeks at the Pacific Missile Range facility in Hawaii.

“For the first time, we’ve got SM-6 fired from DDGs and being fired from the Aegis weapons system,” he added.

SM-6 leverages legacy Standard Missile airframe and propulsion elements while incorporating advanced signal processing and guidance control capabilities of the company’s Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).

Thus, the SM-6 carries a semi-active and active seeker. Once it switches into the active mode, it can acquire a target on its own.

Recent beyond-ship illuminator and remote sensor detection operational concept tests have shown it can attack targets well beyond current Navy destroyer or cruiser missile envelopes.

In January, Raytheon conducted its fourth successful SM-6 flight test at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

The SM-6 uses the same propulsion stack as the SM-3 MK 72 booster, and the two SMs share the MK 104 dual thrust rocket motor.

Both the Mk 72 and Mk 104 are built by Aerojet [GY].

The SM-6 is currently in low-rate initial production (LRIP). The fiscal year LRIP contract called for 19 missiles.

IOC capability is slated for the end of FY ’11 and full-rate production, of approximately 120 missiles, is slated for FY ’12.

There will be one more set of firing tests later this year, Lambert said. These will be operational tests, and “quite a few” more missiles will delivered before the end of the year, Lambert said.

“We’ve already started delivering to the Navy for [operational testing]…that’s the graduation exercise,” he added.