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Air Defense: Aegis Triumphant
   Next Article → IRAQ: History Repeats Itself

August 4, 2008: The U.S. Navy, capitalizing on the success of its SM3 anti-missile missile, wants to equip more ships with it. So far, the seagoing Aegis radar system has used SM-3s to knock down nearly 90 percent of the test missiles fired towards it. This includes shooting down a low flying space satellite. There are 18 U.S. Navy ships equipped with SM-3, and the navy would like enough money to equip all of its Aegis equipped ships (90) with the SM-3. This is expensive, as it costs a few million bucks to upgrade the Aegis radar and install the new software. And then there are the SM-3 missiles, which cost three million dollars each. The navy won't say how many SM-3 missiles are on each ship equipped to handle them, but it's probably something like at least a dozen. So to equip over 80 additional Aegis ships with SM-3 would cost over three billion dollars.

The Aegis anti-missile system consists of a modified version of the Standard anti-aircraft missile and the Aegis radar system, modified to track incoming ballistic missiles. 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.

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 was designed to operate aboard 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).

By the end of the year, the U.S. Navy will have completed equipping 18 ships with the Aegis anti-missile system. One reason the navy recently cancelled its expensive new DDG-1000 class of destroyers was because these were built to support amphibious and coastal operations, and did not have a radar that could easily be converted to use SM-3 missiles. The DDG-1000 also cost 2-3 times as much as current Aegis destroyers. With missile defense seen as a higher priority than providing new coastal combat capability, the DDG-1000 was killed, and money saved could be used to build more Aegis destroyers, and convert more current destroyers and cruisers to use SM-3.

Japan also has four Aegis warships being equipped with this anti-missile capability. Other nations are equipping some of their ships with Aegis. Currently, five navies operate 108 Aegis equipped ships, and are thus able to upgrade to SM-3. Israel also wants to buy a land based Aegis, which would cost about $50 million, plus the costs of the SM-3 missiles. This is not a problem, as the original development version of Aegis was built on land, and still serves for continuing testing and development.

 

Next Article → IRAQ: History Repeats Itself