The Pentagon’s plan to arm Romania and Poland with land-based missile defense technology in coming years took a major step forward in recent days with the first land-fired SM-3 missile intercept, Missile Defense Agency officials said.
The Standard Missile 3, or SM-3, is typically used for short-and-intermediate range ballistic missile defense from Navy ships using guidance technology known as Aegis radar.
While shown to be successfully operational firing from ships into space for many years, a recent test at a missile range in Hawaii proved the missile could intercept targets in space after firing from a land-based launcher.
The test firing is part of a preparation plan for the Pentagon’s European Phased Adaptive Approach, an initiative aimed at building upon the success of Aegis missile defense at-sea with land sites in Poland and Romania. Called Aegis Ashore, the land sites are intended to protect the European content from potential future ballistic missile threats such as Russia and Iran, among others.
Aegis radar works by sending electromagnetic “pings” into space to identify the location and trajectory of an approaching missile threat – and then works with an integrated fire control system to guide the SM-3 interceptor to its target, with the intent of destroying it or knocking it out of the sky.
The SM-3 is a kinetic energy hit-to-kill interceptor, meaning it uses no explosives but rather relies on the impact of a collision to destroy an incoming threat. Raytheon officials describe the force of the impact as equivalent to a 10-ton truck hitting something at 600 miles per hour.
During the test, the SM-3 Block IB also worked in tandem with a technology called AN/TPY-2 radar, a system so precise it can identify a baseball hit out of a stadium from hundreds of miles away.
“Its hawk-like eyes give the SM-3 a jump-start on its trip through space, allowing it to destroy the threat closer to the enemy instead of the ally,” a Raytheon statement said. “The SM-3 Block IB destroyed an intermediate range ballistic missile target in a launch-on-remote engagement using a cue from an AN/TPY-2 ballistic missile defense radar.”
The current plan is to have an Aegis Ashore site operational in Romania by 2015, and ready in Poland by 2018, Pentagon officials said.
“The test demonstrated that the same Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense capability that has been fielded at-sea and operational for years, will soon be operational ashore as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach Phase 2 capability in Romania,” Vice Admiral James D. Syring, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, told Scout Warrior in a written statement. “I am very proud of the tremendous effort by the entire government/industry team in executing this vitally important mission for our Nation and our allies."
Raytheon executives expressed enthusiasm about the land-based SM-3 test-firing, which was also unique in that it was the first-ever test of SM-3 Block IB enhanced threat upgrade software.
“This test proved that no matter how you launch it, an SM-3 can hunt down threats in space and destroy them,” Dr. Taylor W. Lawrence, Raytheon Missile Systems president, said in a written statement. “The flexibility to deploy SM-3s from land or sea expands protection options for our combatant commanders and allies around the world.”