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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

06 August 2015

“Not a boutique missile.” Raytheon’s SM-6 Missile Can Now Destroy Both Cruise and Ballistic Missiles

The complex challenge of defending a ship or an at sea battle group against diverse missile threats appears to have gotten easier as a result of recent tests completed by the US Navy using Raytheon’s SM-6 missile interceptor.    

During tests this 28-31 July, USS JOHN PAUL JONES (DDG-53) detected, tracked, and launched a Raytheon SM-6 Dual I missile to intercept a short-range ballistic missile target. (Photo: US Navy)

This 28-31 July, the ARLEIGH BURKE-class destroyer USS JOHN PAUL JONES (DDG-53) fired three of Raytheon’s new Standard Missile variant, the SM-6 Dual I, in a series of tests. The Dual I upgrade adds a new, more powerful processor that runs more sophisticated targeting software. That software now lets the SM-6 identify, track, and destroy a target descending from the upper atmosphere at extreme speed – specifically, a ballistic missile warhead – in addition  to cruise missiles.

As SM-6 is integrated into the US Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) layered ballistic missile defence strategy, the legacy-era Raytheon SM-3 will continue to be fielded to hit incoming ballistic missiles earlier in their trajectory, at greater distances and higher altitudes, even in space — supporting mid-course defence.

Raytheon’s SM-6 uses the same seeker as the AMRAAM air-to-air missile to engage enemy cruise missiles and aircraft. Whereas Raytheon’s legacy-era SM-2 missile is semi-active – guided by the onboard Lockheed Martin AEGIS combat system to intercept – the SM-6 is a semi-active and active missile. Mike Campisi, Raytheon’s Senior Program Director for the Standard Missile-6 programme, added at an 5 August media availability, that for SM-6, while the Aegis system, “guides, the missile then takes over and ‘does its own thing.’”    

Raytheon optimises components from other Standard Missile family weapons to build SM-6. Beyond the AMRAAM front end, the SM-6 is also constructed with an SM-2 airframe for optimal maneuverability, and an SM-3 rocket motor and booster on the aft part. “We put it together that way to minimise development costs for the US Navy and complete a number of mission sets. What we have done is provide an extended-range active missile,” Campisi said.          

The Raytheon executive further emphasised this July’s tests, which included the 50th flight of SM-6, were also the first time the Navy-industry team flew the sea-based terminal (phase) code set for SM-6. Indeed, Campisi reflected after the recent test regimen “SM-6 and the whole [AEGIS] system were far more capable than we had previously experienced.” Earlier SM-6 “engagements” against ballistic missiles were confined to simulation-based scenarios.

When the SM-6 Dual 1 is shipped to its Navy customer in 2016, afloat battle group and ship-board commanders will have new and valuable tactical options. Campisi explained, “You are putting one missile which has a multi-mission set. This is not a ‘boutique missile’ – either a sea-based terminal or anti-air warfare SM-6 – it is one missile that can do both missions and just needs to be told: here’s the mission you are going on.”    

So while the SM-6 is shorter-ranged and cheaper, it has become more versatile than other SM family missiles.

As this article was prepared for publication, Raytheon reported production of 205SM-6s since the beginning of Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP). Campisi further noted: “We have ramped up [production] since the LRIP. Our production rate is 8-to-10 depending on the month. We have also been asked to look at increasing our rate to almost double on a monthly basis.”

The SM-6 consortium includes Raytheon for the missile and Lockheed Martin for the AEGIS system.

There is increasing international interest in SM-6 procurement. A number of unspecified nations, primarily from Europe, have made preliminary acquisition inquires about prices, availability and similar topics to the US State Department.              

Marty Kauchak, is a regular contributor to MT. 

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