SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The U.S. Navy has finished testing the next generation of its Aegis ballistic missile defense system and given the green light to put it on at least nine cruisers and destroyers by 2015, officials said.
The Aegis BMD system is a collection of sensors, computers, weapon launchers and weapons with the ability to track a missile or rocket via satellite and shoot it down.
The second-generation system, built by Lockheed Martin, provides advanced missiles and improved target identification capabilities, as well as computer and software upgrades, officials said.
The Yokosuka-based USS Shiloh, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, was the first ship to receive the new $50 million system after the initial testing phase.
“This will improve the capability of the Aegis BMD fleet to counter missile threats, regardless of theater,” the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet spokesman, Lt. Anthony Falvo, wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes. With the advanced missile, the system is more capable of targeting and intercepting a ballistic missile threat than preceding systems, Falvo said.
Evaluations and tests on the system were formally completed March 29 but weren’t announced until April 18, five days after North Korea attempted to launch a rocket into space. The rocket — which the U.S. believes was designed to test the North’s long-range missile capabilities — blew up minutes after liftoff.
U.S. Navy officials declined to comment on how this new system might change the game in regard to combatting future North Korean threats.
Between the U.S. and Japanese navies, there are 27 Aegis-armed ships that are operationally deployable, four of which have been provided to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, Lockheed Martin officials said in a news release.
Design of the new system began in 2004, according to Samantha Un, a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin.
The USS Lake Erie received the system in an engineering form three years ago and has “been to sea” six times to track 16 ballistic missiles of varying complexities with varied success, Un said. In March 2011, the Lake Erie successfully intercepted a cruise missile using the new system, but failed to intercept a medium-range separating ballistic missile in September.
Despite its failed test, Un said, the new system worked with the SM-3 Block IB missile and thus performed well enough to continue development.
The new system is slated to be installed on two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers this year, Falvo said.