Air Defense: Aegis Moves To Europe


November 27, 2015: In October the U.S. Navy tested its Aegis SM-3 anti-missile system in NATO waters for the first time. A U.S. destroyer (DDG) successfully used an SM-3 missile to destroy a ballistic missile fired from an island off northwest Scotland. This took place in the Hebrides Range, the largest missile test range in Britain. This was the 37th test of the SM-3, 84 percent of them successful. Also tested during this exercise was the ability of other NATO warships to share target data with American ships equipped with Aegis. This was also a success. 

Because Aegis has achieved such a high success rate during live test firings many countries want Aegis ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) ships for protection. The Aegis system was designed to operate aboard warships (cruisers and destroyers) that have been equipped with the special software that enables the AEGIS radar system to detect and track incoming ballistic missiles. Currently, the U.S. Navy has 30 ships with the Aegis anti-missile system. There are over 100 American and foreign warships equipped with Aegis, but less than half of them had the software mods and anti-missile missiles that enable them to shoot down ballistic missiles and low-orbit satellites. Converting an Aegis ship to Aegis ABM costs about $15 million, mainly for new software and a few new hardware items. This is seen as a safe investment. So far only the U.S. and Japan operate Aegis SM-3 systems but Turkey, South Korea and several other countries are interested. Romania has a land based Aegis SM-3 and Poland has one on order. In 2014 the only land-based Aegis anti-aircraft/missile system in existence (at a New Jersey test site) was taken apart, packed into 60 large (40 foot) shipping containers and sent to Romania where the Aegis system was reassembled and operational a year later as an anti-missile system. The U.S. is building two more ground-based Aegis systems; one in Poland and one in Hawaii. All three, including new Aegis components for two of them and needed missiles (24 per location) and launching hardware for all of them will cost $2.3 billion.

To knock down ballistic missiles, Aegis uses two similar models of the U.S. Navy Standard anti-aircraft missile, in addition to a modified version of the Aegis radar system, which can now track incoming ballistic missiles. The anti-missile missile is the RIM-161A, also known as the Standard Missile 3 (or SM-3). It has a range of over 500 kilometers and max altitude of over 160 kilometers. The Standard 3 is based on the anti-missile version of the Standard 2 (SM-2 Block IV). This SM-2 missile turned out to be effective against ballistic missile warheads that are closer to their target. One test saw a SM-2 Block IV missile destroy a warhead that was only 19 kilometers up. An SM-3 missile can destroy a warhead that is more than 200 kilometers up. But the SM-3 is only good for anti-missile work, while the SM-2 Block IV can be used against both ballistic missiles and aircraft. The SM-2 Block IV also costs less than half what an SM-3 costs.

The SM-3 has four stages. The first two boost the interceptor out of the atmosphere. The third stage fires twice to boost the interceptor farther beyond the earth's atmosphere. Prior to each motor firing it takes a GPS reading to correct course for approaching the target. The fourth stage is the nine kg (20 pound) LEAP kill vehicle, which uses infrared sensors to close on the target and ram it.



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