Why the U.S. Navy Is Trying to Kill ICBMs (Think North Korea, For Starters)

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November 19, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. NavyICBMBMDSM-3 IIAMissile Defense

Why the U.S. Navy Is Trying to Kill ICBMs (Think North Korea, For Starters)

It is a big achievement for a destroyer to take out a potential nuclear missile.

The United States Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and U.S. Navy announced the successful intercept and destruction of a threat-representative Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) target with a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile during a flight test demonstration last Sunday. The demonstration took part in the broad ocean area northeast of Hawaii and involved sailors aboard the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System-equipped destroyer USS John Finn (DDG-113).

The ICBM-representative target was launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. During the test, the destroyer utilized engage-on-remote capabilities through the Command and Control Battle Management Communications (C2BMC) network as part of a defense of Hawaii scenario. After receiving tracking data from the C2BMC system, the destroyer launched a SM-3 Block IIA guided missile, which destroyed the target.

“This was an incredible accomplishment and critical milestone for the Aegis BMD SM-3 Block IIA program,” said MDA Director, Vice Admiral Jon Hill.

“The Department is investigating the possibility of augmenting the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system by fielding additional sensors and weapon systems to hedge against unexpected developments in the missile threat,” added Hill. “We have demonstrated that an Aegis BMD-equipped vessel equipped with the SM-3 Block IIA missile can defeat an ICBM-class target, which is a step in the process of determining its feasibility as part of an architecture for layered defense of the homeland. My congratulations to the entire test team, including our military and industry partners, who helped us to achieve this milestone.”

According to the preliminary data, the test met its primary object, and demonstrated that a SM-3 Block IIA missile could intercept an ICBM target. Program officials will now continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data that was obtained during the test.

This event, designated Flight Test Aegis Weapon System-44 (FTM-44), was the sixth flight test of an Aegis BMD-equipped vessel using the SM-3 Block IIA guided missile. It had originally been scheduled for May of this year, but was delayed due to restrictions in personnel as well as equipment movement as part of efforts to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The test also should satisfy a Congressional mandate to evaluate the feasibility of the SM-3 Block IIA missile’s capability to defeat an ICBM threat before the end of 2020. The SM-3 Block IIA was originally designed and built for the Intermediate-range Ballistic Missile threat set.

As Business Insider reported, while MDA did not mention North Korea, the test did simulate a threat from a rogue nation. North Korea has continued to make progress on its strategic weapons, and a large ICBM—dubbed the “monster missile” was seen during the military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers Party.

The FTM-44 test also highlighted that the SM-3 Block IIA could be used to protect the U.S. from a long-range missile threat from China or Russia.

The Aegis Ballistic Missile Weapons System is the naval component of the U.S. Missile Defense System, and it is cooperatively managed by the MDA and the U.S. Navy. Aegis BMD ships (and Aegis Ashore) receive track data via the C2BMC system, build the fire control solutions, then launch and guide the SM-3 family of missiles to destroy incoming threats.

The Missile Defense Agency was formed in January 2002, but its origins go back to 1983 when President Ronald Reagan established the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which was intended to protect the United States from attack by ballistic strategic nuclear missiles. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the agency’s role was shifted to focus on theater ballistic missiles and it became the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO). When the focus was shifted again to global threats, in 2002 it became the MDA. Its current mission is “to develop and deploy a layered Missile Defense System to defend the U.S., its deployed forces, allies, and friends from missile attacks of all ranges in all phases of flight.”

With the FTM-44 it shows that the MDA is up to the task.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Image: Reuters