Missile defence systems poised to bring safety to allies
With the threat of ballistic missile attack looming, Raytheon employees work day and night to evolve the defensive systems that protect the U.S. and its allies around the world.
“Ballistic missiles are a cheap and dangerous substitute for countries that don’t have the means to maintain a modern and effective air force,” said Andy Rhodes, Raytheon UK business development executive. “That makes them a genuine threat to U.K. forces, overseas interests and, very soon, the U.K. homeland itself.”
Defence of the U.K.’s homeland requires countering the threat from intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with ranges out to 5,500 kilometers, Rhodes said.
“IRBMs execute most of their flight in the high exoatmosphere, which means it’s best to destroy them while they’re in the midcourse of their trajectory,” he said. “A single midcourse intercept system could defend the whole U.K. homeland. But physics dictates that only interceptors close to, or in, the U.K. can provide the necessary protection.”
SM-3 is the only fielded system able to provide midcourse interception from sea and land. Currently deployed only at sea on U.S. and Japanese cruisers and destroyers, the first land-based SM-3 site, often referred to as Aegis Ashore, is scheduled to become operational later this year in Romania.
SM-3s are currently deployed on U.S. Navy ships off the coast of Europe. The interceptors are ready to launch into space at a moment’s notice, and they destroy incoming ballistic missile threats using nothing more than sheer impact.
“Whether at sea or on land, SM-3’s deployment flexibility opens up the door in terms of who might be able to take advantage of this capability for national defence,” said Dean Gehr, director of Raytheon’s land-based Standard Missile program.
This holds especially true for the next-generation ballistic missile defender – the SM-3 Block IIA, which underwent its first successful flight test in June and is set for a second by 2016.
With larger rocket motors and a bigger, more capable kill vehicle, the SM-3 Block IIA can engage threats sooner in flight and protect larger regions from short- to intermediate-range ballistic missile threats. It is on track for deployment at the second Aegis Ashore site in Poland in 2018.
“One might assume these Aegis Ashore sites will provide all the protection the U.K. might need, but missiles en route to the U.K. may be too high to be intercepted whilst over southern or central Europe,” Rhodes said.
Discussions are intensifying about equipping the Royal Navy's Type 45 destroyers with MK 41 Vertical Launch Systems that would allow them to carry ballistic missile defence interceptors, Rhodes said. He also noted the radar on Type 45 destroyers will be tested in various ballistic missile defence scenarios during at-sea demonstration exercises in October.
The MK 41 Vertical Launch Systems may also go onto Type 26 frigates, "which means they could be inherently ideal for sea-based ballistic missile defense protection,” said Rhodes.
Not only could the Royal Navy carry the only sea-based midcourse defense weapon in existence today, the SM-3, they could also take advantage of the SM-6’s anti-air warfare and ballistic missile defence capability.
In August, an SM-6 Dual 1 interceptor destroyed a short-range ballistic missile target in a first-of-its-kind test at sea, solidifying its place in an elite group of weapons that can defend against this class of threat.
“SM-6 is an advanced multi-mission missile that really showcases the value of combining the best of several programs into one,” said Gehr. “Its success showcases the value in using mature components in innovative ways.”
SM-6 already provides the U.S. Navy fleet with air defence against fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and land-attack anti-ship cruise missiles in flight, over both sea and land.
“The SM-6 would be an ideal option to layer with SM-3,” said Rhodes. “SM-3 could provide protection against longer-range threats outside the earth’s atmosphere, and SM-6 could provide terminal defence should that be necessary.”
The SM-6 combines the legacy Standard Missile airframe and propulsion elements with the advanced signal processing and guidance control capabilities of Raytheon’s Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile.
“U.S. Navy commanders want both capability and flexibility to meet a wide variety of missions, and that’s what both SM-3 and SM-6 deliver,” said Gehr.