First intercept test of new SM-3 variant set for October

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A new missile co-developed by the United States and Japan is expected to face its first intercept test this October, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said Aug. 17.

The Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 2A interceptor is a bigger and more capable version of the Raytheon-built SM-3 Block 1A and 1B interceptors.

Syring described the test as a “big deal” during a speech here at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium and said he expected it “to garner a lot of public attention this fall.”

“It will send a message around the world on what Aegis is doing and what Standard Missile is doing to defeat the threat,” he said.

In the test, the SM-3 Block 2A would aim to destroy a medium-range ballistic missile target.

Designed to be fired from ships or from land, the Block 2A features second and third stages that are wider, at 53 centimeters, than those on the current SM-3 variants. That feature gives the missile the range and velocity needed to engage medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The interceptor also allows for more software updates to improve the missile’s capability and effectiveness.

In 2015, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency used the Block 2A variant in two flight tests but an intercept was not planned as part of either exercise.

Full-rate production of the interceptor is targeted for as early as 2017. That would be followed by deployment on land and at sea in 2018, government and industry officials have said.

East Coast interceptor site

Meanwhile, Syring said he expects the MDA to choose the preferred location for an East Coast interceptor site by the end of the year.

“I just want to caution everybody. That is a preferred site. That does not mean a decision has been made, that there is funding available to build this. All of that is no at this point,” he said. “The work that we’ve done … will cut down the process once the decision is made, if the decision is made, significantly to have this in the can and ready to go.”

The current Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, which serves as the primary U.S. territorial missile shield, has interceptors at sites in California and Alaska that could shoot down North Korean missiles. The MDA, at the urging of House Republicans, is studying options for a third site in the eastern United States to counter a potential Iranian missile threat.

Currently, the MDA is considering Fort Drum in New York, Camp Ravenna Joint Training Center in Ohio and Fort Custer Training Center, Michigan for the third site.

The price tag for an East Coast site is expected to be at least $3 billion. Defense Department officials have downplayed how quickly a potential site may be needed and have warned that the funding could detract from higher-priority programs.

Syring said he did not expect the site to become a higher priority to the Defense Department until the kill vehicle that tops ground based interceptors in redesigned. That program, led by the MDA along with industry partners Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, is expected to start delivering the new kill vehicles around 2021.