The Buzz

Get Ready, Russia and Iran: America Wants to Kill Nuclear Missiles in Space

The Missile Defense Agency and Raytheon are testing and developing a new SM-3 missile variant better able to detect and destroy ballistic missile threats approaching the earth’s atmosphere from space.

The new missile, called the SM-3IIA, is slated to fire from a land-based missile defense site planned by the Pentagon for Poland by 2018, Missile Defense Agency officials told Scout Warrior in a statement.

SM-3 missiles, first deployed on Navy ships, are exo-atmospheric interceptor missiles designed to destroy short and intermediate range incoming enemy ballistic missiles in above the earth’s atmosphere. With the weapon, threats are destroyed in space during what’s described as the mid-course phase of flight.

The planned Poland deployment is a key part of what the Pentagon calls the Aegis Ashore program, an effort to leverage the ship-based Aegis Radar for land-fired missile defense technology. As of last year, Aegis Ashore locations are already operational in Romania as part of the Obama administration’s European Phased Adaptive Approach program.

The concept with the program is to engineer a land-based missile defense envelope, by using already successful and operational Aegis Radar and SM-3 technology, to better protect the European continent from potential ballistic missile threats.

While not specifically identified for particular countries such as Iran, Russia or other potentially hostile Middle Eastern Countries, the sites are designed to protect Europe and NATO allies from the broadest possible range of missile threats to Europe. Land-based defensive intercept missiles in Romania and Poland, such as the SM-3 variants, could knock-out and destroy approaching missile threats aimed at European targets.

The SM-3 is a kinetic energy warhead able to travel more than 600 miles per hour; it carries no explosive but instead relies on the sheer force of impact and collision to destroy an enemy target.

The new SM-3IIA missile builds upon a smaller existing operational variant of the missile called the SM-3IB, Raytheon officials said.  

“This is an extended capbility of what we have for the SM-3 1B.  Because of the larger missile this is a 21-inch air frame. we have a larger area of defended area coverage. we've also brought in some capability advancements into our kinetic warhead so now we have a higher sensitivity - so that is just better seeker,” Amy Cohen, Raytheon SM-3 Director, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

 The SM-3IIA is still finishing up development and is slated for flight test in the second half of this year. The MDA and Raytheon test will assess the kinetic warhead and missile seeker in a space environment, Cohen explained.

An improved seeker can better see approaching targets from longer distances compared to the SM-3 1B, she added.

Some of these improvements engineered into the missile are described as “sensitivity increases” which use a larger focal plane array for detection and more computer processing power.

The SM-3 Block IIA has completed two very successful fly-out tests—with no target missile launched, Lehner said.  

“The first intercept flight test is planned for second half of this year. We will be engaging against a medium range ballistic missile - the next flight test we have will get us to the point where we have the trajectory very solid that we are there to support EPAA phase III in Poland,” Cohen added.

In December of last year, Raytheon received a $543 million SM-3IIA production contract to build the missiles. Some of these missiles will be sent to Poland for the Aegis Ashore site planned for 2018, officials said.

Production of the missile involves a collaborative effort between the Raytheon in the U.S. and Japan.  Both Japan and Raytheon produce 50-percent of the missile which is then integrated by Raytheon.

Meanwhile, Raytheon and the MDA are also upgrading the existing SM-3IB missile with improved software such that it can better detect and destroy new threats, Kenyon Hiser, Raytheon’s SM-3 Block IIA program manager.

Some of the technologies designed for the SM-3IIA are being retrofitted onto the SM-3IB, he added.

Kris Osborn became the Managing Editor of Scout Warrior in August of 2015. His role with Scout.com includes managing content on the Scout Warrior site and generating independently sourced original material. Scout Warrior is aimed at providing engaging, substantial military-specific content covering a range of key areas such as weapons, emerging or next-generation technologies and issues of relevance to the military. Just prior to coming to Scout Warrior, Osborn served as an Associate Editor at the Military.com. This story originally appeared in Scout Warrior. 

Image: Raytheon.