George S. Patton once averred that when Samson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass the weapon was surely en vogue for centuries.
The U.S. Navy’s Aegis Weapon System has not been around for centuries, but it has been the vanguard of American sea power for more than three decades and continues to be upgraded to support new platforms, such as sea-based missile defense.
The emerging Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense is the sea-based component of the nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMD). Aegis BMD is designed to shoot down short to medium-range ballistic missiles in their midcourse phase of flight using a modified Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) as the interceptor. The SM-3 uses “hit-to-kill” technology that destroys target warheads by colliding directly into them. Aegis, Greek for shield, is an integrated radar and missile guidance system.
Aegis-equipped ships are able to detect and track ballistic missiles and then share that information with other missile defense sensors and the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) command center.
The Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the U.S. Navy, which cooperatively manage the Aegis BMD program, have conducted eight sea-based missile defense tests, seven of which ended in successful intercepts. The most recent test, conducted in the Pacific Ocean in June, is considered a milestone for several reasons. First, the newly modified USS Shiloh, participating in its first missile defense trial, successfully intercepted a “separating” target – a target warhead that had completely separated from its booster rocket. This had not been done before.
“We are continuing to see great success with the very challenging technology of hit-to-kill, a technology that is used for all of our missile defense ground and sea-based interceptor missiles,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of MDA, said following the test.
The June test was also the first time new weapon system software, ballistic missile defense 3.6, had been used in an intercept demonstration. Furthermore, it was the first time an allied military – Japan – took part in a sea-based missile defense test. One of Japan’s Aegis-equipped destroyers provided detection and tracking assistance during the exercise.
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