Anti-ship missile test off Kauai meshes with 'lethality' concept

A 2010 file photo of the since-decommissioned USS Reuben James, which was sunk by an SM-6 missile in a January test.


By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: March 11, 2016

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — A missile was fired in January by a destroyer off Hawaii, sinking the former Pearl Harbor frigate USS Reuben James in the process — which, it turns out, was a good thing.

Raytheon Co. revealed the capability demonstration this week, reporting that the destroyer USS John Paul Jones used an SM-6 missile — previously configured as a defensive weapon to shoot down incoming enemy missiles — to sink its first-ever surface target, the decommissioned Reuben James.

The U.S. Naval Institute said the Jan. 18 engagement took place at the Pacific Missile Range Facility off Kauai. Where exactly the sinking took place was not immediately clear Thursday.

The successful test comes as other nations — China mainly — develop increasingly sophisticated anti-ship missiles and as the U.S. Navy seeks to increase the distance between enemy ships and flotillas such as aircraft carrier strike groups.

Raytheon also said the Hawaii test dovetails with the Navy’s “distributed lethality” concept of seeking to strike from any ship and from any location.

The Pearl Harbor-based John Paul Jones in separate tests utilized the SM-6, which has a speed of Mach 3.5 (2,685 mph), to destroy five targets in distance-breaking, over-the-horizon missions in which the missile no longer utilized a ship’s radar.

Beyond the sight of operators, the missile activated its own radar to engage targets, Raytheon said. Targeting data could come from E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft.

Raytheon said the SM-6 uses the workhorse Standard Missile airframe and propulsion elements, while incorporating advanced signal processing and guidance-control capabilities of the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the new SM-6 capability in a meeting with sailors in San Diego last month. The development comes as questions were being raised about the Navy’s ability to engage enemy warships at distance with existing weaponry.

“We’re modifying the SM-6 so that in addition to missile defense, it can also target enemy ships at sea at very long ranges,” Carter said. “This is a new anti-ship mode. It makes the SM-6 basically a twofer. Can shoot down airborne threats. And now you can attack and destroy a ship at long range with the very same missile.”

Raytheon said it has delivered more than 250 SM-6 missiles, which were deployed for the first time in 2013. Carter said $2.9 billion was being put in the budget request to buy more over the next five years.

The range for the SM-6 is thought to be more than 200 to 250 nautical miles, or 230 to 288 statute miles.

An SM-6 “Dual-1” missile also was used in a first-of-its-kind test in July off Kauai when the John Paul Jones demonstrated that it could destroy a ballistic missile in its terminal phase, or final seconds of flight, Raytheon said. Two additional SM-6 interceptors were used to take out cruise missile targets in the anti-air warfare scenarios.

The Reuben James, the last frigate to be home-ported at Pearl Harbor, was decommissioned in 2013 after 14 deploy­ments and 27 years of service. At the time, officials said the 453-foot ship would be kept in the inactive-ship facility at Middle Loch until it was possibly sold to a foreign nation.

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