New SM-3 Variant Completes 1st Successful Intercept Test

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Navy successfully carried out the first successful intercept test May 9 of a new variant of the sea-based Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptor, which failed in its previous attempt to knock down a target missile.

The SM-3 Block 1B interceptor took off from the deck of the USS Lake Erie and intercepted a short-range target missile that was launched at 8:18 p.m. local time from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii, the MDA said in a May 9 press release. The intercept took place over an open area of the Pacific Ocean, the MDA said.

The Navy ship, equipped with the second-generation Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system 4.0.1 weapon system, detected the target via radar and developed a fire-control solution, according to the release. The SM-3 Block 1B warhead destroyed the target via impact, a technique often referred to as a hit-to-kill.

The SM-3 Block 1B, a new and more capable variant of the SM-3 interceptor, failed in its first intercept test last September. Additionally, there were problems on a nonintercept test of the missile conducted the previous April.

These developmental test issues have delayed production and deployment of the new interceptor. An April 20 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office criticized the MDA for approving production of the SM-3 Block 1B before completing developmental testing, saying this type of concurrency leads to a requirement for expensive hardware retrofits.

The May 9 test was the first successful intercept involving the Aegis BMD 4.0.1 system, according to the press release. Along with the SM-3 Block 1B interceptor, the Aegis BMD 4.0.1 system is designed to improve the military’s ability to engage longer-range and more complex ballistic missiles.

The SM-3 Block 1B, built by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., features a two-color infrared seeker, an upgraded onboard signal processor and a more flexible throttleable divert and attitude control system. Like the first-generation SM-3, it is designed to intercept short- and medium-range missiles.