Air Defense: Naval Defenses Against Iranian Missiles



July 10, 2008: Last week, the U.S. Navy sent a message, and conducted some anti-missile training, as two Aegis warships (one off the coast of Israel, and the other in the Persian Gulf) practiced defeat a combined missile attack, from Syria, Lebanon and Iran, against Israel.

So far, the Aegis system has knocked down nearly 90 percent of the missiles fired towards it. This includes shooting down a low flying space satellite. The Aegis system consists of a modified version of the Standard anti-aircraft missile and the Aegis radar system, that shoots down ballistic missiles. This system, the RIM-161A, also known as the Standard Missile 3 (or SM-3), has a range of over 500 kilometers and max altitude of over 160 kilometers. The Standard 3 is based on the failed anti-missile version of the Standard 2, and costs over three million dollars each. The Standard 3 has four stages. The first two stages boost the interceptor out of the atmosphere. The third stage fires twice to boost the interceptor farther beyond the earth's atmosphere. Prior to each motor firing it takes a GPS reading to correct course for approaching the target. The fourth stage is the 20 pound LEAP kill vehicle, which uses infrared sensors to close on the target and ram it. The Aegis system only operates from warships (cruisers and destroyers that have been equipped with the special software that enables the AEGIS radar system to detect and track incoming ballistic missiles.

The recent exercise mainly tested the communications and computer operations of the Aegis systems in the two warships. No missiles were actually fired (although some simulated ones were in a software version of the system, used for testing and training.) Iran has threatened to fire missiles at Israel, if anyone attacks Iranian nuclear weapons development facilities. Israel also has its own anti-missile systems. The U.S. is most concerned about Iranian short range missiles attacking U.S. bases in Iraq, or oil production facilities in nearby Arab nations.

By the end of the year, the U.S. Navy will have 18 ships equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system. Japan also has four Aegis warships being equipped with this anti-missile capability.


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