Patrick Durrant | Sydney
A Raytheon Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile target at sea in its final seconds of flight, after being fired from the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones.
During the test two SM-6 Dual I missiles were fired against the complex target that was launched off from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. The tri-capable SM-6 missile is known for its anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare and Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) capabilities but the terminal phase intercept function is a recent enhancement.
"[Intercepts during the terminal phase] are the most difficult and least desirable."
“Earlier this year, our customer (the US Navy) requested an enhanced capability to deal with a sophisticated medium-range ballistic missile threat,” SM-6 senior program director Mike Campisi said. “We did all this – the analysis, coding and testing – in seven months; a process that normally takes one to two years.”
This was the third time that the SM-6 missile successfully engaged a ballistic missile target in its terminal phase, with previous tests conducted in August 2015, and then again in late 2016.
A statement from the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) described intercepts during the terminal phase as the most “difficult and the least desirable of the phases because there is little margin for error and the intercept will occur close to the intended target”.
The other BMD missile in the Raytheon stable, SM-3, differs from SM-6 in that it uses non-explosive ‘hit-to-kill’ technology that intercepts ballistic missile targets during the mid-course of their trajectory. The terminal phase capability in the SM-6 is a secondary function of the weapon that is designed primarily for traditional air and cruise missile threats used in concert with the Lockheed Martin AN/SPY-1D(V) radar and the Baseline 9 version of the Aegis Combat System, soon to be in service aboard the RAN's new Hobart class guided missile destroyers.
“We are working closely with the fleet to develop this important new capability, and this was a key milestone in giving our Aegis BMD ships an enhanced capability to defeat ballistic missiles in their terminal phase,” MDA director Lieutenant General Sam Greaves said.
“We will continue developing ballistic missile defence technologies to stay ahead of the threat as it evolves.”
For more on the potential for BMD in the RAN, see senior correspondent Julian Kerr's story from our July edition of ADM.