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Strategic Weapons: Aegis ABMs Are Out There
   
November 23, 2005: For the sixth time in the last three years, the U.S. Navy
successfully tested it's ABM (anti-ballistic missile) version of its Standard
anti-aircraft missile (yes, that's the official name, the "Standard" missile).
There has been one test failure. The Standard 3 (or SM-3) is designed to reach
out 500 kilometers to hit incoming missiles. 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 LEAP kill vehicle which uses infrared sensors to close on the
target and ram it. The LEAP is a 20 pound warhead that destroys the targeted
ballistic missile by hitting it.

This system requires a modified Aegis radar system and
the navy is modifying over a dozen ships so they can handle the SM-3. The
Standard 3 system has been tested and works, or at least it works against the
test targets it has faced so far. It gone six for seven in tests during the
last three years. An improved version of the Standard 3 is in the works that
will extend range first to 1,000 kilometers, then 1,500 kilometers. A new LEAP
warhead will weigh 66 pounds and be more effective (because of better guidance
and heavier weight.)


The current thinking is that two or three Aegis cruisers equipped with Standard
3 missiles could shut down any attempts by North Korea or Iran to use their
current ballistic missiles. The Standard 3 does this by spotting and hitting
the missiles while they are still rising up into the atmosphere. Systems like
Patriot 3 or Arrow hit the missiles while they are coming down. At this point
the missile is moving at several times the speed of sound and is actually a
harder target to take out. The navy is not saying how many SM-3 missiles it
has, but there are apparently at least a few dozen of them in service. Warships
equipped with the SM-3 are regularly stationed off Iran and North Korea. The
SM-3 is believed particularly suitable to shutting down any attempt by North
Korea to use ballistic missiles. For that reason, Japan is buying the SM-3
system for some of its Aegis equipped warships.