Home » Aviation » VIDEO: Navy, Missile Defense Agency Succeed During SM-6 Ballistic Missile Defense Test

VIDEO: Navy, Missile Defense Agency Succeed During SM-6 Ballistic Missile Defense Test

A medium-range ballistic missile target is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii, during Flight Test Standard Missile-27 Event 2 (FTM-27 E2) on Aug. 29 (HST). MDA Photo

Two missiles launched from the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) bullseyed a complex medium-range ballistic missile target in a successful test off Hawaii, the Missile Defense Agency announced on Wednesday.

The test put two Raytheon SM-6 Dual I missiles against the complex target that was launched off from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii.

Flight Test Standard Missile-27 Event 2 (FTM-27 E2) is the second successful test of SM-6 has had against a medium-range BMD target following a similar test in December. The MDA and Navy first tested the concept in 2015.

The terminal phase β€œis the last opportunity to make an intercept before the warhead reaches its target. Intercepting a warhead during this phase is difficult and the least desirable of the phases because there is little margin for error and the intercept will occur close to the intended target,” read a description from MDA.

SM-6 launches from guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones on Aug. 29, 2017. MDA Photo

Unlike the Raytheon Standard Missile 3s that intercept BMD targets during the mid-course of their trajectory, the terminal phase capability in the SM-6 is a secondary function of the weapon that is designed primarily for traditional air and cruise missile threats used in concert with the Lockheed Martin AN/SPY-1D(V) radar and the Baseline 9 version of the Aegis Combat System.

β€œThe SM-6 missile uses an explosive warhead to defeat ballistic missile threats, differing from other missile defense interceptors, such as the Standard Missile-3, which use non-explosive hit-to-kill technology,” the MDA said in a statement.

The promise of the capability is that an SM-6 with that can perform BMD and traditional air warfare functions would free up space in a guided-missile destroyer missile cells.

The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) in 2016. US Navy Photo

“We are working closely with the fleet to develop this important new capability, and this was a key milestone in giving our Aegis BMD ships an enhanced capability to defeat ballistic missiles in their terminal phase,” said MDA Director Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves in a statement.
“We will continue developing ballistic missile defense technologies to stay ahead of the threat as it evolves.”


  • Bob Ciminel

    I guess we have to take the Navy’s word that an intercept occurred. Somehow all we ever see is the launch. I’m pretty much convinced we can launch missiles from our fleet, but I’d like to see the results once in awhile as a confidence builder.

    • sferrin

      I’ll bet you believe in the invincibility of Russian S-400s despite not a one ever showing an intercept, let alone of the quality of those the US regularly releases. By your criteria Russia has no working SAMs or ABMs.

      • Bob Ciminel

        As an ex-FBM submariner I can assure you nothing is invincible. I think you missed my point. The article said we intercepted an IRBM. I want to know if we can hit the warhead or destroy the missile during lift. I haven’t seen that yet.

        • sferrin

          Even if they showed a video there’s no way to know if it was of the same interception. I wanted to see the entire shot too but it is what it is. *shrugs*

        • Duane

          The SM-6 is not a boost phase interceptor. It is a terminal phase interceptor originally designed to take out aircraft and cruise missiles, but now adapted to also take out BMs in the terminal phase.

          The SM-3 is designed to handle primarily mid-course interception, at much higher altitudes than the SM-6 is capable of, and is supposed to also work for boost phase. But boost phase at the moment seems more of an aspiration than a reality, particular for ground or ship based missiles, because of the reaction time and fuel consumption needed to go from ground level at zero velocity to high up and hypersonic velocity. And the closer to the launch point the better … so to obtain a very close launch point for the interceptor would require that the launch ship steam very close to NK shores, which presents a risk for the ship. For these reasons, an air based boost phase system seems the most feasible today, using existing platforms and missiles.

    • Bob,

      These tests occur at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF). This is a very extensive facility on Kauai, the northern most Hawaiian Island and elsewhere in the region. The facility has numerous radar, telemetry and optical sensors; including airborne IR imagery sensors on 2 L3 Gulfstreams (HALO). The Cast Glance guys from Pt. Mugu are always up for a little Hawaii trip, so you can bet that they were there too. Whenever these tests are conducted, multiple observations of the intercept take place in real time on a myriad of sensors involving numerous organizations in addition to MDA. In this particular case, the intercept occurred on re-entry. What that means is that the atmosphere discriminated out the light weight objects (decoys a.k.a. penetration aids) and the RV will be the lead object. When the intercept occurs, there can be no doubt since there is ample evidence and data obtained from multiple sensors, and many organizations report the results. Certain parameters remain classified (i.e. precise altitude, closing velocities, interceptor time of flight, etc.), but be assured that this was a successful test. There are videos of the intercept recorded by the observing aircraft from multiple perspectives. I get to see the video; Duane does not.

  • Ed L

    It’s all about the Geometry

  • RobM1981

    This is, of course, very good news.

    Now, if the USN can keep the launch vehicles from smashing into commercial vessels, perhaps we can keep a few of these great systems deployed?


    • Kenneth Millstein

      Tough words. It’s hard to disagree.

  • Duane

    We’ve made a lot of progress in missile defenses over the last decade. We still have much more to do. NK is certainly giving us plenty of incentive to accelerate our missile defense development and deployment. Particularly we need much more capability in boost phase and mid-course phase defenses. The SM-3 is supposed to work for boost phase, but proof of performance in that area is sparse at the moment. Our terminal phase successes are very good, of which the SM-6 is part, along with THAAD and Patriot PAC-3 (and working on PAC-4 now).

    Air launched ABMs are likely going to prove most effective in the boost phase, at least in the short term. Mounting existing interceptors on either manned or unmanned birds, with a denser array of airborne along with satellite-based sensors, is something we can do in short order, while more capable ground or sea launched interceptors are fully developed to handle boost phase interception,

    • sferrin

      “PAC-4” has no relation whatsoever to PAC-3 and is simply a rebadged Stunner (which is much less capable than PAC-3). PAC-3 is a LM product and Stunner is a Raytheon one. Raytheon’s marketers thought calling their missile “PAC-4” might fool some people.

      • Duane

        Yes and no. PAC 4 is still based on the Patriot system’s sensors, fire control, and launcher, and represents a performance increase over the much older PAC-3 interceptor at a much lower cost per interceptor. It will incorporate a multi-mode seeker (PAC-3 is single mode radar only) and a two-stage booster, according to Raytheon and its Israeli partner.

        • sferrin

          “es and no. PAC 4 is still based on the Patriot system’s sensors, fire
          control, and launcher, and represents a performance increase over the
          much older PAC-3 interceptor at a much lower cost per interceptor.”

          Uh, “no and no”. “PAC-4” is the missile. Stunner is inferior to PAC-3/MSE against the types of targets PAC-3 was designed for. Like ESSM, Stunner has longer range against aircraft, but against the toughest targets, PAC-3 is the clear winner.

          • Duane

            I don’t see why you are arguing. I made a simple statement that the PAC-4 system is under development – it most assuredly is – and that the Stunner missile in the PAC-4 system still uses the rest of the PAC-3 system but for the missile itself. That most assuredly is true too. I made no argument about whether the PAC-4 is going to work or be purchased and deployed, or is “better” than PAC-3 (though the Israelis believe it IS much better, with a much more capable tri-mode seeker and much lower missile cost).

            So what is your argument?

    • tteng

      I thought the intended target(s), practiced against, were DF-21 and DF-26 ASBMs. Don’t know what ‘complex MRBM’ meant, HGV warhead??

      • Duane

        Ballistic missile defense has been part of AEGIS for a very long time, long before the Chinese medium and long range ASBMs came into being. AEGIS is an area air and missile defense system – not limited to ships but also has a land based system too, called “AEGIS Ashore” that is being installed in the Baltics and which Japan has been in discussion with the US on a possible – now likely – installation (perhaps more than one) in Japan.

        • tteng

          Please google ” Trajectory Planning for Reentry Maneuverable Ballistic Missiles “. A pdf file will show up, at the bottom are some simulation plots on the diving phase of maneuverable warhead(s).

          I have HGVs particular in mind in a very specific scenario.

  • Duane

    The Navy claims the SM-3 is a BPI, but what I wrote is “and is supposed to also work for boost phase”. And then I went on to write the problem for surface based BPI is because of the very limited period available to sense, track and shoot a missile in boost phase, which depending upon the range of the BM, only lasts for about 1 to 3 minutes. It’s not a limitation of the interceptor missile – it’s time and distance that limit the SM-3.

    The SM-3 is plenty fast enough.- the Block IIA is supposed to do over Mach 15 (the Block Is are much slower, around Mach 10). If we could deploy SM-3 on a high flying drone, I expect it could work very well, but it’s a very big missile at over 21 feet long.

    To work effectively as a BPI, we would have to place the launch platform ship relatively close to NK, within range of surface or air launched ASCMs. An Arleigh Burke can certainly defend itself from a preemptive ASCM attack that might presumably precede an ICBM salvo … but that creates a layered challenge of fending off a simultaneous ASCM attack and ICBM attack.

    For these reasons, and physics, an air launched ABM can have faster reaction time with lower risk to launch platform, particularly if it is a more or less disposable drone aircraft, with defensive air cover provided by our attack aircraft like Super Hornets, F-35s, and F-16s in SK and Japan.

  • Bill

    And I wonder if our military might like to have the ABL right now, for all its cost, flaws and limitations. Another Gates decision premised on only having to fight insurgents from now on.

    • Duane

      Space based doesn’t work for boost phase, for reasons of physics. To park a launch platform in geostationary orbit places it 23 miles above the earth at nearest approach. Add in the additional angle distance to the actual launcher, and it’s longer. By the time a missile in boost phase is detected, tracked, and an intercept path is defined, the boost phase is already nearly over. To provide a close enough interceptor launch point from low earth orbit, the cost of mounting dozens of interceptors capable of handling a ICBM salvo, and given the short period of time each cluster of interceptors would actually be in range above the launch path, would mean many hundreds of interceptors would be required. It’s just not economically feasible.

      Therefore, the only practical means of boost phase interception are air based or very very near surface based. The AEGIS-equipped AB with SM-3s would have to be just a few miles off shore of NK to have any hope of intercepting an ICBM. That of course makes the AB an inviting target for a land based ASCM attack just prior to launching the ICBM salvo.

      • Bill

        Good point, but my comment was about the cancelled airborne laser, or ABL.

        • Duane

          Sorry – my bad. But ABL didn’t work either.

          The ABL weapons program was cancelled because it was neither technologically feasible nor financially affordable, yet airborne laser development continues. As part of the missile defense program, we’re developing long-endurance very high altitude UAV-mounted lasers for boost phase missile defense. Those weapons are still at least 4 to 5 years away from having a deployable weapon. In the meantime, great strides have been made in ground based lasers for use by the Army and Navy, but not for BM defense, rather for taking out drones and other relatively low flying aircraft and ground or sea based targets.

        • Geostationary orbit occurs at an altitude of 35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles) above the Earth’s equator. That puts a satellite in Geostationary orbit much further away from the surface than 23 miles. It was NOT a good point Bill, merely another example of the bilge for which Duane is famous.

  • Duane

    Check the Navy’s own graphic they published that illustrates the roles and ranges of AEGIS system intercepts by interceptor missile that shows short range BPI by SM-3.

    Check your own facts.

  • Duane

    I don’t recall ever commenting anywhere about the capabilities of the SM-2.

    But you’re arguing over nothing, I have stated here in this thread several times that the SM-3 has challenges as a BPI because of the platform it is launched from.

    The “supposed to” comes from a graphic published on the internet by the Navy that illustrates various AEGIS intercept ranges, BM types, and interceptor types as well as intercept altitudes. The system here bleeps links. Just look it up on Google or Bing and it’ll take you all of one minute or less to find it.

    • sferrin

      None that I’ve ever seen. Show the search terms you used to find the graphic in question. Shouldn’t be difficult since you already know what you’re looking for.

      • Duane

        Do a Bing search on “boost phase intercept” and look in the “images of boost phase intercept”. The graphic illustrates BMD (Aegis) as applying in the boost phase for short range BMs.

        Again and again and again, I agree and have written here several times in this thread that the Navy lacks a credible boost phase intercept capability with AEGIS and the SM-3, not due to the missile’s inherent abilities to intercept, but due to its platform’s limitations. BPI is best conducted from aviation assets because of the very short time and distance available to intercept during boost phase, and the SM-3 is too big at 21.5 ft long to carry on most aircraft available today. You don’t need nearly as a big missile if it is air-based and stationed relatively close to the launch site.

  • BlueSky47

    Duane-y, what are you doing here in this forum? This is the REAL WARSHIPS forum where REAL capabilies and REAL warships are discussed. i.e the REAL Navy, not the cruise ship navy. You belong in the little crappy ship forum, aka the LCS, where you blabber on about the LCS being the “best ever, best in world, bar none, most capable, etc” The world wonders… πŸ˜›

  • Duane

    OK, in that context I do remember making that comment. A comment that had absolutely nada, zilch, nothing, zero to do with ballistic missile defense. That I didn’t remember making that comment is because, unlike you, I am commenting on the subject of this thread and not merely trying to hijack the thread and go in an entirely different subject, purely for the purpose of being stubbornly argumentative, as you are doing. You’re trying – unsuccessfully – to hijack this thread, dude. Give it up, dude.

    The SM-2 is not an anti-ballistic missile munition. It is an air defense weapon for use against aircraft and ASCMs, very old (to 1970s), for low altitude work at medium ranges. It can also be adapted for anti-ship work.

  • Bob Ciminel

    Thanks for the information.

  • SM-3 has NO ENDOATMOSPHERIC CAPABILITY WHATSOEVER; thereby precluding boost phase intercepts which occur in the atmosphere. In order to deploy the KW, the nosecone must be jettison. This can only occur in the exoatmosphere. If it were to occur in the atmosphere, the IR seeker would heat up and become useless. The KW flight profile is also characterized for a ballistic intercept. The target is accelerating in boost phase and consequently requires either an exceedingly fast interceptor missile, which the US Navy does not currently possess, or a Zero Time of Flight weapon such as directed energy of which ABL was an example. This reply is for the benefit of 716 and our other open minded readers.

  • A perfect example that a little knowledge (and I emphasize little) in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing.

  • At the closing velocities of the RV and the KW, any contact is usually lethal. RVs are notoriously tough targets. They are designed to survive nearby nuclear detonations. We design out attack profiles in such a way that the warheads arrive on the target at sightly different times to avoid fratricide. Even if the warhead is not completely destroyed, it is unlikely that it will land on the intended target if the re-entry trajectory is perturbed. In the case of nuclear warheads if a detonation occurs it is very unlikely that the intended yield will be achieved. A nuclear detonation requires a very precise geometry and timing for the fissionable material to do more than merely melt down. A damaged RV is unlikely to retain that sort of mechanical integrity. In the case of chemical or biological warheads, their effective radius is considerably smaller, so an impact point that is more than a few kilometers off is an effective mission kill.

  • “Aegis ships will have a boost phase intercept capability” – MDA will have to figure it out first and they are mainly Army guys.