July 1, 2012:
The Netherlands has hired defense contractor Thales to modify the radar and fire control systems on one of its De Zeven Provinciën class frigates so that it can fire SM-3 Block IB anti-missile missiles. The frigate's SMART-L and APAR radars would, like their Aegis counterparts on American warships, spot incoming missiles and guide the SM-3 to an interception. This project would produce the first European warship equipped to knock down ballistic missiles.
The 6,000 ton De Zeven Provinciën class frigates normally carry 32 SM-2 Block III anti-aircraft missiles. Some of these can be replaced with SM-3s. This anti-missile missile is also known as the RIM-161A. Usually it is just called the Standard Missile 3 (or SM-3). It has a range of over 500 kilometers and max altitude of over 160 kilometers. The Standard 3 is based on the anti-missile version of the Standard 2 (SM-2 Block IV). This SM-2 version turned out to be effective against shorter range ballistic missiles. One test saw a SM-2 Block IV missile destroy a warhead that was only 19 kilometers up. An SM-3 missile can destroy a warhead that is more than 200 kilometers up. But the SM-3 is only good for anti-missile work, while the SM-2 Block IV can be used against both ballistic missiles and aircraft. The SM-2 Block IV also costs less than half what an SM-3 costs.
The SM-3 has four stages. The first two 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 9 kg (20 pound) LEAP kill vehicle, which uses infrared sensors to close on the target and ram it.
The SM-3 was originally developed to operate on warships using the American Aegis radar and fire control system. To use the SM-3 the Aegis warships were equipped with the special software that enabled the AEGIS radar system to detect and track incoming ballistic missiles. Thales, which designed and installed similar (to Aegis) radar and fire control systems in European warships, was able to modify these systems to handle the longer range SM-3 anti-missile missiles.