Air Weapons: Navy Tries Out F-18s Carrying SAMs


July 8, 2024: The U.S. Navy is turning its ship mounted SM-6 (Standard Missile-6) air defense weapon into a multi-purpose missile carried by its F-18E carrier based aircraft. Each one is 6.6 meters long and half a meter in diameter. The missile weighs 1.5 tons with a warhead containing 64 kg of explosives. The SM-6s carried by F-18s had one of their two booster rockets removed. The removed rocket weighed several hundred kg and was used to get the SM-6 into the air and on its way to the target when launched from a ship. Here a flight deck catapult fires the whole F-18 and its modified SM-6 into the air.

SM-6s have been used to intercept ballistic missiles as well as aircraft, but can also be used against ships, land targets and low-earth-orbit satellites. Max range is 240 kilometers and max speed on launch is 4,200 kilometers an hour, or about one kilometer a second. Carried by F-18s, the SM-6 retains all its surface ship capabilities and can be used against aerial, surface or low orbit space satellite targets. Using SM-6 as an air-launched weapon, it replaces the Harpoon anti-ship missile and the AIM-120 AMRAAM long range anti-aircraft missile.

Until recently the navy purchased, for $4 million each, 125 SM-6 missiles a year and had a stockpile of 600 to be used as reloads for VLS (Vertical Launch System) cells emptied by test firing or use against attackers. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in early 2022, SM-6 production has increased. The US and allies navies have nearly 10,000 VLS cells on their warships. In wartime many of these cells would be emptied as missiles were fired at enemy targets, and need replacement missiles. Currently VLS cells can only be reloaded when the ship is dockside.

On ships, the SM-6 is launched against targets detected and tracked by the onboard Aegis Combat Control System. The Aegis Radar and fire control system is standard throughout the fleet.




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