MDA’s Satellite Missile Tracker Scores First Kill

February 13, 2013 11:21 AM - Updated: February 13, 2013 5:48 PM
Aegis-class destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) launches a standard missile (SM) 3 Blk IA during a 2009 exercise. US Navy Photo
Aegis-class destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) launches a standard missile (SM) 3 Blk IA during a 2009 exercise. US Navy Photo

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency successfully conducted the first live test Wednesday of a satellite missile tracking system designed to provide ship and shore-based batteries greater range to destroy rogue missiles, MDA officials told USNI News Wednesday.

At 4:10 a.m. EST, a missile from USS Lake Erie (CG-70) successfully intercepted a “medium-range ballistic missile target,” launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, on Kauai, Hawaii using Space Tracking and Surveillance System-Demonstrators (STSS-D) with a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IA guided missile, MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner said.

“It’s the first time we’ve used in-orbit satellites to find and track a target and relay the information to a ship where they were able to derive a fire control solution,” Lehner said.

The two-satellite STSS-D constellation was launched in 2009 as a precursor to MDA’s planned Precision Tracking Space System. The PTSS, currently under development, will provide tracking data for land and sea based missile defense batteries.

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) is a growing concern for defense planners, especially in the Middle East and European theatres. In 2009 the Obama administration developed the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) that put Aegis equipped U.S. Navy destroyers and cruisers in the Mediterranean and plan for land-based BMD batteries in Eastern Europe. The goal is to provide a shield from to counter a potential missile threat from a rouge actor. However ship and shore BMD batteries are limited by their onboard radar systems in the range they can detect tracks. Installation of additional ground-based radars is also challenging, “especially when the optimal location might require host nation agreements,” according to MDA documents.

The promise of the orbiting PTSS infrared sensors is to extend the sight of the BMD batteries to provide a greater degree of warning without the political baggage of installing additional radars.

“The earlier you can get tracking data it certainly increases the battle space and give you more time to develop intercept solutions,” Lehner said.

PTSS is scheduled for a preliminary design review by the end of the year and the MDA hopes to award a production contract for developmental models in early 2015.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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