A missile made by Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems destroyed a ballistic missile in a flight test primarily using targeting data from space satellites, the company said Wednesday.
During the test off Hawaii at about 11 p.m. Tuesday, a Standard Missile-3 Block IA fired from the Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie destroyed a medium-range ballistic-missile target launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
The interceptor was guided mainly by tracking data from a remote, Raytheon-made sensor payload on two Space Tracking and Surveillance System-Demonstrator satellites, the company said.
The so-called "launch on remote" test used the satellite sensors to detect the target early on. The ship's crew fired the SM-3 based on satellite tracking data and before the ship's radar detected the target, Raytheon said.
The use of satellite tracking effectively expands the operational area of the SM-3, part of the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, and allows for earlier detection and elimination of threats, Mitch Stevison, director of Raytheon's SM-3 program, said on a conference call.
Though satellite tracking has been used in prior tests in combination with other ground, aircraft and ship systems, Stevison said the test is the first test in which satellites provided "engagement-quality data" for an intercept, calling the event "a seminal moment in missile defense."
"It is a moment that, in my mind, will change our thinking about ballistic-missile defense for many, many, years to come," he said.
The Aegis system is the sea-based element of the nation's emerging missile-defense shield, which is intended to counter possible long-range ballistic-missile attacks by nations including North Korea and Iran. Ships with SM-3 Block IAs already are patrolling European waters as part of the first phase of the missile-defense plan.
The most recent SM-3 test came within a day of a controversial underground nuclear test by North Korea.
Some critics of missile defense have contended an enemy missile launch would likely be detected too late to effectively launch interceptors. But Stevison said the use of satellite tracking helped shave minutes off the response time in a scenario in which every second counts.
"With the acceleration we work with in the missile world, seconds matter. We expanded the battlespace greatly last night by being able to launch much earlier off that data," he said.
The "launch on remote" concept was first demonstrated during testing in April 2011 when a U.S. Navy destroyer used a Raytheon-made radar on Wake Island to detect and destroy an intermediate-range ballistic missile target with an SM-3 Block IA missile.
The most recent exercise marked the 22nd successful test intercept by an SM-3, Stevison said.
The test also was the first successful intercept by an SM-3 Block IA missile since a similar missile missed its target during a first-of-its-kind, multiple-interceptor test last October.
A Missile Defense Agency review board is still investigating the cause of that failure, but Stevison said Tuesday's test was a key step toward getting the program back on track.
"We are now very confident we have a greater understanding of what we saw in (the failed test)," he said.
"Every test, particularly flight tests, build confidence," Stevison said. "(Tuesday) night, you could say, was the next step in getting past the previous issue."
The MDA plans another multi-system intercept test this year, according to agency documents.
Raytheon decoy to ride combat drone
An air-launched decoy made by Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems is being readied to hitch a ride on the Pentagon's main attack drone.
Raytheon is working with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, maker of the B/MQ-9 Reaper attack drone, to equip the Reaper with Raytheon's Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD), the companies announced Wednesday.
A ground-testing phase was completed in November at General Atomics' Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., and the companies expect the Reaper outfitting work to be completed later this year, Raytheon said.
The effort will provide an "unprecedented" electronic-warfare capability enabling remote, unmanned suppression of enemy air defenses, said Harry Schulte, vice president of air-warfare systems for Raytheon Missile Systems.
After launching from an aircraft, the MALD confuses the targeted air-defense system by duplicating the flight profiles and radar signatures of friendly aircraft. The latest version, the MALD-Jamming or MALD-J, adds electronic-jamming capabilities to the aircraft. Raytheon began delivery of MALD-J's in the fall of 2012.
The 27-foot-long Reaper has plenty of power and size to carry the roughly 10-foot, 250-pound MALD. The Reaper can carry more than 3,500 pounds, including a combination of Hellfire missiles and 500-pound bombs.