Pentagon Works To Expand Aegis BMD’s Reach

Stellar Avenger successful ballistic missile defense intercept.The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency and the U.S. Navy are developing next-generation Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) hardware and software along with a longer-range interceptor missile engineered to massively increase the protective envelope against intermediate and long-range ballistic missile threats, service officials said.

The Navy and Lockheed Martin are now developing and testing computer code for what’s called Aegis BMD 5.0 and 5.1 Weapons Systems, the next iterations of technology designed to provide Aegis destroyers and cruisers with advanced radar, intercept and signal processing capabilities, said Navy Capt. Jim Kilby, Deputy for Aegis BMD.

The hardware and software for these systems are now being tested and refined at a Combat Systems Engineering Development Site in Moorestown, N.J.

“The code is now in test. Instead of having a normal ballistic missile signal processor, 5.0 will have a multi-mission signal processor,” said Kilby. “Lockheed Martin is testing this code in the final stages right now for stability and endurance.”

Aegis BMD destroyers routinely patrol waters in the Pacific Ocean, using cutting-edge radar technology to scan the surrounding skies for potential missile threats.

These routine patrols, part of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet’s regular deployments and maritime security routines, have taken on additional importance in light of recently escalating tensions and potential threats emanating from North Korea.

“The purpose of the Aegis ships on patrol in the Pacific is a mission called Long Range Surveillance and Track and they act as sensors for homeland ballistic missile defense,” Kilby said. “In simple terms, their job is to provide an early detection of intercontinental ballistic missiles[ICBM] and provide fire control quality tracking data to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system.”

This tracking data would enable Ground-based Interceptor (GBI) missiles, from either Fort Greeley, Alaska, or Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, to intercept the ICBM before it could reach targets in the United States, said Kilby.

Overall, this kind of scenarios speaks to the broader multi-layered aspects of the U.S. missile defense posture, Kilby explained.

In total, the Navy’s Pacific Fleet is home to 16 Aegis BMD ships.

“The capability our AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ships provide is in great demand. Longer, more frequent deployments have become more common. The Navy is busy. We expect to continue to be busy into the future as the operational requirements for our naval forces continues,” said Navy Lt.  Anthony Falvo, spokesman for the Navy’s Pacific Fleet.

Aegis BMD ships are known, in large measure, for their AN/SPY-1 radar system which surveys the surrounding atmosphere for potential threat objects in a 360-degree envelope, electronically scanning around the ship and up to high altitudes every twelve seconds, Navy officials indicated.

Then, once a threat is located by the radar, the ship’s MK 72 booster fires one of several possible Standard Missile-3’s out of what’s called a MK 41 Vertical Launch System, propelling the interceptor into space to collide with and destroy an approaching missile threat.

Aegis BMD Weapons Systems are designed in “increments” such that each new iteration is designed to build upon and add to substantial existing capability.  The new systems are engineered to build upon the progress of the recently tested Aegis BMD 4.0 Weapons System technology.

“4.0 has a ballistic missile signal processor called the BSP and the SM-3 Block IB has a two-color seeker. These two things give you more discrimination ability from the kill vehicle and more discrimination from a tracking or radar perspective,” he added.

Discrimination ability is described as having the technological capability to discern an incoming missile from surrounding debris, decoy objects or even fuel waste, Kilby explained.

Aegis BMD Weapons System 5.0 is now being integrated on the USS John Paul Jones, a guided-missile destroyer based at Naval Homeport, San Diego, Calif.

“The USS John Paul Jones has commercial-off-the-shelf computing technologies such as blade servers that are more similar to what is out in industry right now,” said William Doud, BMD special assistant.

In fact, the first sea trials involving the integration of an engineering load of Aegis BMD Weapons System 5.0 were completed earlier this month, a Navy official said.

“After the industrial portion of her availability ends this September, she [USS John Paul Jones] will have about a year of testing and certification trials to certify this combat system for installation in other ships,” the Navy source indicated.

Once complete in 2016, the Aegis BMD Weapons System 5.1 will be ready for installation, testing and certification aboard the USS John Paul Jones; Initial Operational Capability for Aegis BMD Weapons System 5.1 is currently slated for 2018, a Navy official said.

“The USS John Paul Jones will become the BMD test ship year from now,” Kilby added.

The Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor, to be ready by 2018, is being designed to integrated with the Aegis BMD Weapons System 5.1; the missile will travel much further above the earth’s atmosphere compared to prior missiles and bring an improved ability to identify, discriminate and destroy incoming enemy ballistic missiles, said Kilby.

The SM-3 Block IIA, and it predecessor, the recently tested SM-3 Block IB, are designed to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles during the Midcourse phase of their trajectory — essentially that period of time during which the missile is traveling through space above the earth’s atmosphere, Kilby explained.

The SM-3 Block IIA, currently being co-developed by the U.S. and Japan, has a 21-inch nose cone, large-diameter kinetic warhead and what’s called an advanced discrimination seeker, Kilby explained.

“The Block IIA has much more room for fuel and a bigger warhead. It goes faster and farther,” said Doud — comparing the SM-3 Block IIA to the SM-3 Block IB which recently intercepted a dummy warhead above the Pacific Ocean during a test-firing from the USS Lake Erie.

The May 15 test was conducted by Navy sailors aboard the USS Lake Erie, a guided-missile cruiser, which detected and tracked the missile with its on-board AN/SPY-1 radar, according to an MDA press statement.

The development of the SM-3 Block IIA and test of the MDA’s BMD system utilizing the Aegis Weapon System 4.0 as well as the SM-3 Block IB are also significant with regard to the Pentagon’s longer term Aegis Ashore program, referred to as a European Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA).

Both of the SM-3 Block IB and the SM-3 Block IIA missiles have a more advanced seeker and more advanced “Throttleable Divert/Attitude Control System (TDACS),” when compared with prior models of the missile such as the SM-3 Block 1A missile.

“Once it is ejected from the missile in space, the TDACS points the Kinetic Warhead’s (KW) IR sensor in the expected direction of the incoming ballistic missile, acquires it, and then diverts the KW so as to cause a hit-to-kill collision with the incoming threat missile,” a Navy official explained.

The Aegis Ashore plan calls for an effort to build and insert land-based SM-3 Block IB missiles at fixed sites in Romania and Poland, by 2015 and 2017, respectively.

The concept is for the “fixed” or land sites to work in tandem with Aegis ships within range in order to widen the BMD protective envelope across wider swaths of the globe, improving protection for the continental U.S. and key U.S. allies, Kilby explained.

“Aegis sites ashore and Aegis ships at sea will be connected via satellite data link and share both sensor and engagement data just as when ships are operating together at sea,” he said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • blight_

    So now instead of putting SPY-1’s ashore it’s just SM batteries? Hrm.

    Additionally, there’s a great deal of focus on the SPY-1 and the seeker and enhancing hit capability, but range is also another big issue. It’s easier to go after boost-phase missiles than midcourse missiles, but boost phase is a small window of action. Once the missile is in midphase there isn’t much you can do, and it devolves to the midcourse defense systems such as those in Alaska and Vandenberg.

    That said, the maximum altitude of some IRBM’s is above the published max height of the SM’s. More stages or a bigger missile form factor would enable increases in range, but beg the question of what platform would be used to launch bigger missiles?

    Kind of curious if VLS cells can be taken out and combined into mega-cells to house ever-larger missiles…

    • EW3

      Time to put some interceptors into space.

      • SJE

        Where they move in a predictable path, are easily tracked, and can be destroyed by any country with a space program.

        Also, how to secure it from being hacked? Its entirely reliant on a computer, and its floating around with comm-systems exposed.

        Finally, I think we signed a treaty against doing this.
        Not worth the foreign policy headaches for a vulnerable and unreliable system.

        • Tom Billings

          We signed the ABM Treaty, that prohibited *any* mobile defenses, orbital or sea-borne, or roadable, which Treaty we formally abrogated over 10 years ago. The only other Treaty relevant is the 1972 amendments to the Outer Space Treaty, which banned Weapons of Mass Destruction in Space. Orbital BMD missile stations would not be weapons of mass destruction, but weapons of precise destruction. Different animals entirely.

          Predictable paths are not a problem if your missile range is great enough for 24 hour coverage of any one spot with the stations you place in orbit. Secure them from hacking by using only laser coms for them, to and from manned stations in far higher orbits. The fact that something can be destroyed is not something that keeps it from being used as a weapon. If that were so, no Navy would have surface ships or submarines, either. Can the system be degraded? Sure! But with what degree of real effort, and how continuously?

          Single kills of satellite stations would be easy. Killing enough stations to degrade the system enough to let launches from a small country succeed with a ballistic missile launch of continental range is *very* difficult for any such small country.

    • Tri-ring

      Probably not since although you may increase diameter, you can’t stretch length of the missile which is needed to prolong burn time to gain distance.

      • platypusfriend

        What if the boost motors burn horizontally, from the inside out? Then, wouldn’t increasing the width increase the range?

        • Tri-ring

          Most solid rocket booster’s center is burrowed out . This is to gain more burn area to maximize exhaust. This cannot be obtained by just expanding the diameter of the rocket.

          • SJE

            yes, burrowed out, but in large solid fuel rockets its a star shape so you can get max surface area and therefore thrust/weight is moderated during the burn. You can increase diameter to get more burn time.

    • RunningBear

      A fleet T-AKE can carry and launch all of the larger SM missiles required when linked to the Aegis Destroyer systems. An advanced (larger) MK 41 Vertical Launch System can easily be installed (drop in) in the vast cargo hold spaces.

      • Guest

        Might want to check this link… the T-AKE cannot launch missiles.

        • wpnexp

          I think RunningBear was suggesting a modified T-AKE designed with an Aegis radar and a larger Vertical Launch System battery, similar to the arsenal ship concept of the past. In fact, the LPD-17 San Antonio class are being considered for this already.

    • wpnexp

      blight, I didn’t read anything in the article to suggest that the Aegis Ashore concept has been abandoned. You suggest the max altitude of an IRBM is higher than the Standard missiles, but this is really only at the apex of the trajectory, a relatively small part of the flight. As the smaller SMs have already knocked out a satellite, they seem to be able to do the job in most cases. In fact, missile speed seems to be a more important factor, but I am not as well informed in this area.

  • brownie

    My prediction is general war with Red China by 2017. Indeed, we’ve been at war with this dangerous military dictatorship since 800,000 Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River in 1950, to attack American ground forces. Did we ever sign a peace treaty with ’em?


      Uhm. Have you seen the amount of trade between the USA and China? War? It wouldn’t be a case of either country winning in the end. Both would lose.

      • Big-Dean

        well, the trade is mostly one way. Just look at the trade deficit

        So China is the winner here, they NEED us more than we need them as a trading partner.

        If we stopped all Chinese imports today, their economy would crash tomorrow and never recover.


          Makes sense, as if the US holds a trade embargo (one that would work in one direction) I would think that all countries in NATO, at the very least, will follow suit. China would go from riches to rags in hours.

    • JJ6000

      That was 1950. Way to move on, buddy….

    • hibeam

      When you go in keep an eye out for my job. It’s over there somewhere. Along with pretty much everyone elses. Well done Washington.

  • Mark

    My question to the coders is do you remember what Bob said about making sure it is simple to use in the heat of fast paced battle?

    • blight_

      Or training the human element to operate under high stress.

      Wouldn’t want the fear of another Vincennes causing a ship to hesitate against a threat; or simultaneously encourage a shoot-first-questions-later mentality.

  • Steve B.

    Greater altitude on the missile also means better ant-sat capability.

  • John

    >>> engineered to massively increase the protective envelope

    An envelope is a measure of volume or ability or distance, not mass. A mountain is massive. An aircraft carrier is massive. The flight ability of a missile is not.

    • Dr. Horrible


    • hibeam

      Postal workers are massively overpaid. And deliver envelopes.

  • Big-Dean

    Way to go Navy, this is one of the few DoD programs that really works and is getting better all of the time

  • Roger

    Blight and others are correct, the SM-3 is too small to hit anything other than small ballistic missiles. The longer range intermediates that N. Korea or Iran use arc some 300 miles overhead. Even the planned enhanced SM-3 can only reach half that high. More details are here:

    • Tri-ring

      The NK missiles are not that much of a threat since they can be shot down during ascent stage since their launch site are all near the coast lines.
      The missiles shot from PRC and Russia are the real threat.

      Interesting point would be that PRC missiles aiming the US east coast will require to go pass through Russian air space. Which will no doubt force the Russians intervene as well.

      One more point is although ICBM will take a higher trajectory since the earth is round the relative height is not what the chart within the link makes it for people to believe.

      • blight_

        Public information on the Shahab III indicates it’s max altitude is above the max alt of SM-based interceptors, though that would suggest using the Shahab against an object at the maximum end of its range. Closer targets wouldn’t necessarily require a missile to go higher, but it’s still a concern for anyone thinking about Iran and IRBM’s. The Russian solution is really just the old ABM system (same age as old Safeguard) using kiloton nukes, unless they’ve switched to kinetic interceptors, but I doubt it.

        On the plus side, an SM should have the speed and the max-alt to defend against SRBM’s and TBM’s.

        • Tri-ring

          I believe you got how ballistic works wrong. Basically it’s the same as firing a mortar shell, the distance is based on the trajectory of the mortar with the furthest being at a 45 degrees angle but this will not reach the max altitude.

          As for fuel burn the second stage cannot be turned off since it is propelled by solid fuel making it like a roman candle.

  • Terrier

    Note they state the shipboard missiles would not be used:
    “The purpose of the Aegis ships on patrol in the Pacific is a mission called Long Range Surveillance and Track and they act as sensors for homeland ballistic missile defense,” Kilby said. “In simple terms, their job is to provide an early detection of intercontinental ballistic missiles[ICBM] and provide fire control quality tracking data to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system.”

    This tracking data would enable Ground-based Interceptor (GBI) missiles, from either Fort Greeley, Alaska, or Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, to intercept the ICBM before it could reach targets in the United States, said Kilby.


    Which means they lack the range. Of course radars in Japan do a better job, but it gives our Navy destroyers a make believe role

    • blight_

      Which means the guys in Europe are toast, since there are no GBI systems in Europe. Can’t help you bros.

      I wonder what it would take to fire GBIs from ships…


        I am sure that GBI’s have been attempted to be on a ships. Its not a bad idea. Maybe even put them on subs.

    • wpnexp

      Not all the ships are LRS&T ships. Some are actually designed to shoot and knock down the missiles. Some operate in the LRS&T mode only, and are not BMD shooters, but we are building more shooters. LRS&T was an early design which could be upgraded to a shooter, but that would require a lot of work.

  • blight_

    That said, I wonder what it would take for the Russians to extend their ABM network further south? They have a radar in the Caucasus, and it would benefit from another ABM site. The only ABM site they have is around Moscow; and now that the ABM Treaty is dead, hedging their bets against ABM attack is not a bad idea. Building ABM to the north is a message that Russia intends to protect against American Minutemen attack. To the south would be Iran, to the southeast the People’s Republic, the East the pacific, west Atlantic.


      The trouble is that the US won’t fire a Minutemen against any of these countries. Its redundant.

  • SJE

    It would also help the Russians to have friends and stability in the South, instead of turmoil and bloodshed we’ve been seeing for over a decade.

  • Tony C.

    The idea is to get as many chances to intercept the ICBM warhead before it get’s over US territory. The more time to track and resolve the intercept, the better chances of getting a hit on the target. The reason for longer range SM-3 missiles is to get more than one shot at that target in the tracking envelope. The sooner the missile is intercepted the better. The mid-course interceptors will attempt ot get the missile at the apogee of the trajectory in space where they are moving slowest. Once the warheads are on their way back into the earth’s atmosphere they accelerate rapidly.

  • hibeam

    These missile defense systems are soaking up money Obama could be using to buy votes. Draw a red line in the stratosphere.

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