Foreign and Defense Policy, Defense

A good month for BMD

Image Credit: Missile Defense Agency

Image Credit: Missile Defense Agency

A lot of bad news these days on the defense front. But before the Congress and the President push the Pentagon over the cliff with a new round of budget cuts, we ought to take note of some good news tied directly to a program that has been run well, properly funded and properly tested.

This week the Missile Defense Agency, US Pacific Command and the US Navy conducted the second of two successful tests of Raytheon’s family of SM-3 missiles.

Earlier in the month, an SM-3 Block 1A (fired off the Aegis destroyer USS Decatur) intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile. The test was conducted in conjunction with an Army Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery whose target was a medium-range ballistic missile as well. Two missiles, two hits—with the test designed to examine the ability of the Aegis BMD and THAAD systems to work together to provide a layered missile defense architecture.

The latest test, conducted using the guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie off Hawaii, took place this past week—this time involving the SM-3 1B, an advanced version of the 1A. The test was a blind test in that the Navy crew did not know either the time of the target missile’s launch or its trajectory. In addition, the test was notable in at least two other regards: first, the Lake Erie fired not one but two SM-3s nearly simultaneously, allowing MDA and the Navy to begin to assess the ability of the Aegis-based system to handle a barrage launch of enemy ballistic missiles; and second, the first 1B launched not only successfully intercepted the target missile’s warhead and destroyed it, but did so at the highest-ever height in space. The point being: the higher the intercept, the larger the area on the ground that can be potentially defended.

The SM-3 1B is still in development but this past week’s intercept was the fourth consecutive successful intercept and puts the 1B on track for full-rate production in the not-so-distant future. Good news for us; bad news for Iran and North Korea.

Video of the SM-3 Block 1B’s interception of a ballistic missile on September 18 is available here.

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