“The test was the Navy’s attempt to demonstrate an intercept of a subsonic, low-altitude target over land, and it did just that,” said CMDR. Sidney Hodgson, deputy program manager for standard missiles.
The test-firing was the second in a series of ten planned tests for the SM-6 during what’s called the Follow-On Test and Evaluation, or FOT&E phase, which is slated to finish in 2016, Raytheon and Navy officials said.
In development for seven years, the SM-6 achieved initial operating capability in 2013. The weapon is designed to provide defensive intercept capability and offensive fire power against anti-ship cruise missiles, fixed and rotary wing aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The weapon is also slated to perform terminal phase ballistic missile defense.
“It offers the commander extended range capability over the existing SM-2. It offers air defense against fixed and rotary wing targets and anti-ship missiles operating at altitudes ranging from very high to sea-skimming,” Hodgson said.
A key element of the test was to assess the weapon’s ability to discern a target that is slow-moving and among clutter, Raytheon officials said.
“At this speed, among clutter, you are looking for discrimination and how well the missile is able to discriminate when something is flying low. The success of the test was wrapped around the fact that it involved a subsonic target at a very low altitude,” said Mike Campisi, program manager for standard missiles, Raytheon.
The SM-6 is able to discriminate targets by using a dual-mode seeker using both active and semi-active modes. While using the semi-active seeker technology, the missile relies on a ship-based illuminator to highlight the target, whereas using active-mode the missile itself sends out an electromagnetic signal, or ping, Campisi explained.
Being able to successfully discern a slow-moving target such as a land-launched cruise missile has the potential to provide significant tactical advantage. For instance, the active seeker could help the SM-6 find a cruise missile launched from behind a mountain.
In June of this year, Raytheon received a $275 million contract modification for SM-6 production. Overall, the Navy’s program of record calls for delivery of 1,800 missiles, 250 of which are already on contract.
The SM-6 could prove a strategically vital asset in light of the rapid technological progress of potential adversaries developing anti-ship missiles, such as China, Iran and North Korea.
Campisi explained that the multi-mission SM-6 is engineered with the aerodynamics of an SM-2 and the propulsion booster stack of an SM-3. On the front end, it’s configured like an Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, AMRAAM.
The Navy plans to put the SM-6 onto cruisers and destroyers, Hodgson said.