WASHINGTON – The U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Dec. 8 conducted the second developmental flight test of its Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 2A interceptor and awarded Raytheon a contract to build 17 more.

Two days later, the MDA carried out the first intercept test involving a land-based variant of the SM-3 Block 1B, a smaller interceptor deployed primarily on ships at sea. The land-based SM-3 Block 1B variant is being developed as part of the MDA multiphased plan for defending Europe against missile threats.

In the Dec. 10 test, the Block 1B interceptor, cued by a remote AN/TPY-2 radar, lifted off from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Complex on Kauai, Hawaii, and destroyed a ballistic missile target that had been launched from a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft. The test’s success keeps the MDA on track to begin deploying SM 3 Block 1B interceptors in Romania next year, Raytheon said.

“This test proved that no matter how you launch it, an SM-3 can hunt down threats in space and destroy them,” Taylor Lawrence, president of Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Arizona, said in a Dec. 10 release. “The flexibility to deploy SM-3s from land or sea expands protection options for our combatant commanders and allies around the world.”

Meanwhile, on Dec. 8, the MDA conducted a flight test of the SM-3 Block 2A, being developed jointly with Japan, from the Point Mugu Sea Range on San Nicolas Island in California. The test did not include the launch of a target.

Raytheon said in a Dec. 8 news release the mission was used to evaluate a series of functions, including attitude control nosecone performance, booster separation, and second- and third-stage rocket motor separation.

The Block 2A interceptor, developed under an agreement signed in 2006, is a bigger and more capable version of the SM-3 Block 1A and 1B interceptors, part of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system. Designed for deployment on ships or on land, the Block 2A features second and third stages that are wider, at 53 centimeters, than those on the current SM-3 variants, giving it the range and velocity needed to engage intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

The event marked the second flight test of the Block 2A interceptor. The MDA has planned an intercept test for 2016.  Raytheon said the interceptor remains on track for deployment in Poland in 2018.

That same day, the MDA awarded Raytheon Co. a $543 million contract to produce and deliver 17 SM-3 Block 2A interceptors.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.