SM-3: Adapting to the Evolving Threat

From Armor & Mobility, March/April 2019 Issue

Raytheon Company’s evolving 65 plus-year-old Standard Missile-3 is bigger, more capable, and most importantly, more versatile to address intelligent threats.

By Dr. Mitch Stevison, Vice President, Raytheon Strategic and Naval Systems

Ballistic missile threats continue to advance, and in the same way, the Standard Missile-3 is evolving with the help of innovative engineering. A “crawl, walk, run” development approach that builds on proven systems has created an unparalleled ballistic missile killer. It destroys short-to-intermediate range ballistic missiles in space by colliding with its target – like hitting a bullet with a bullet. The SM-3 is the only missile in existence today that can be launched from a ship at sea or from land, offering extraordinary versatility to the warfighter.

Threat-Targeted Evolution

Over the years, the SM-3 has flexed its muscle in dozens of flight tests from both land and sea, which are designed to test the full capacity of the missile in real-life scenarios. The latest variant – the SM-3 IIA – has larger rocket motors and a bigger, more capable kinetic warhead that permits rapid engagement of threats. Complementary to its earlier variants, the SM-3 IIA’s enhanced range allows it to travel further, protect larger regions, and reach velocities much faster than the speed of sound. The SM-3 IIA will join its earlier variants on U.S. Navy and Allied ships and in European land-based sites.

A series of significant testing marked a banner year for SM-3 in 2018, particularly for the IIA. The variant completed its second and third successful intercepts last year, in addition to demonstrating the first intercept from a land-based launch and the first intercept of a sophisticated intermediate-range ballistic missile target. It also accomplished its first intercept using tracking data from remote sensors, known as “engage on remote.” Raytheon’s missile defense solutions continue to expand the defended area by protecting against increasingly sophisticated threats with the use of remote sensors like the AN/TPY-2 radar.

The newest variant works in concert with the SM-3 IB to provide a layered missile defense shield against ballistic missile attacks. The SM-3 IB also made waves in 2018 when Japan tested it for the first time, intercepting a target off the coast of Kauai. The test marked a significant milestone in missile defense cooperation between Japan and the United States.
The evolution of the SM-3 family, and others that Raytheon produces, is intentional. The rapid development of technologies is only able to occur when you have a robust base of engineering, production, and testing expertise to build upon – a more than 60-year legacy makes a solid base.

Few missiles are started from scratch. Over the years, we’ve taken the best components of the best systems to create versatile powerhouses like the SM-3. The program has leveraged lessons learned during years of testing and stacked up more than 30 intercepts in space.