New SM-3 variant faces two intercept tests this year
WASHINGTON — A new missile co-developed by the United States and Japan is expected to participate in two intercepts tests later this year, Raytheon executives said Jan. 13.
The Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block 2A interceptor, developed under an agreement signed in 2006, is a bigger and more capable version of the Raytheon-built SM-3 Block 1A and 1B interceptors.
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.
MDA has scheduled two intercepts tests of the missile for the second half of 2016, said Amy Cohen, the director of Raytheon’s SM-3 program. In both tests, the SM-3 Block 2A would aim to destroy a medium-range ballistic missile target.
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.
The SM-3 Block 2A is a key part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) for defending NATO allies, which is centered around the Lockheed Martin-developed Aegis Weapon System, the SM-3, and a network of ground-, air- and space-based sensors.
The EPAA currently relies on sea-based SM-3 Block 1A and Block 1B interceptors, but subsequent phases will see SM-3 variants deployed on land in Poland and Romania.
Raytheon is under contract to co-produce 17 Block 2A interceptors for developmental testing.
Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is working as a sub-contractor to Raytheon to provide the interceptor’s second- and third-stage motors and nose cone.
Meanwhile, Kenyon Hiser, a Raytheon missile defense executive, said that when an SM-3 Block 1B interceptor failed to hit a medium-range ballistic missile Oct. 31 as part of a complex test, it was a “one-off” situation. An MDA investigation is ongoing.