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Monday, October 8, 2012

US Navy Successfully Tests New Anti-Ballistic Missile over Pacific

The latest upgrade to America’s primary defense against a missile attack from belligerent enemies, assuming one ever launched a ballistic missile against the US, has successfully destroyed a test missile off the coast of Hawaii this week, writes Robert Beckhusen for Wired News. The Raytheon-built Standard Missile-3 interceptor is key to the next phase of an anti-missile shield being built by the United States in and around Europe, Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced. “Initial indications are that all components performed as designed,” the agency said in a statement. The Pentagon plans to deploy increasingly capable SM-3 versions up to around 2020 to boost defenses against missiles that could be fired by enemies, specifically at this time, Iran and North Korea. According to the MDA, the test involved a short-range target missile launched on Wednesday from the military’s Kauai-based Pacific Missile Range. The target missile then flew over the Pacific Ocean, where it was tracked by the Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie, and was then destroyed in mid-flight with a “kinetic” interceptor launched from the ship, “using only the force of a direct impact,” the Pentagon’s statement read. That means the test missile was brought down by blunt-force trauma, writes Robert Beckhusen for Wired News. Raytheon was happy with the results, telling David Wichner of the Arizona Daily Star, “Obviously, we’re very happy and pleased – it was a great day not only for Raytheon, but for the whole industry-government team,” explained Wes Kremer, vice president of Air and Missile Defense Systems for Raytheon. “The [interceptor] does not have a warhead. It’s a kill vehicle, and it maneuvers into the path of the threat, and the threat is destroyed by the kinetic energy of the impact,” Kremer told Beckhusen. “So there’s no warhead, it can’t be a near miss, and then it blows up; so it’s literally a skin-to-skin contact between the kill vehicle and the target.” The interceptor had failed to knock out its target in its maiden intercept test in September, leading to a continuing delay in Raytheon’s production, writes Wichner. The interceptor is due to be deployed on land in Romania by 2015 in the second stage of President Barack Obama’s “phased adaptive” approach to missile defense. It will also be used on ships equipped with Lockheed Martin’s “Aegis” anti-missile combat system. The Aegis system, named after the mythological shield carried by Zeus, ties together sensors, computers, displays, weapons launchers and weapons. A total of 27 specially equipped Aegis warships are set up for ballistic missile defense – 23 in the US Navy and four in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. What makes this intercept device different from its predecessor is a device called a two-color infrared seeker, which expands the interceptor’s range and helps it find its target more quickly. This is also more maneuverable, owing to “a more flexible throttleable divert and attitude control system” according to the Pentagon statement. As of right now, the SM-3 system and its planned follow-up, the SM-6, have further upgrades in store and are also expected to be installed on more ships like the Lake Erie and the USS Monterrey, currently deployed to the Mediterranean with the SM-3 interceptor missiles on board, reports Jim Wolf for Reuters. By 2020, the upgrades should have progressed to the point to be able to stop intercontinental missiles. Two more tests for the Block 1B are scheduled for later this year and with the near-inevitability of some kind of missile defense shield over Europe implemented in the coming years, the systems better work.

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