A missile flies toward U.S. air space in the dark of night. The threat is detected from outer space, and a missile soars in response out of the Pacific Ocean — and within minutes the threat is vaporized.
This is no movie: It’s just an ordinary day for the U.S. Navy, which is actively testing the might of a system designed to keep the homeland safe.
Using space-based satellite sensors orbiting the Earth, the Navy’s Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMD) recently achieved its first live-fire medium-range ballistic missile intercept.
In mere minutes the target was vaporized. One missile was striking another like a bullet hitting a second bullet in flight.
Aegis-equipped ships can simultaneously attack targets on land, ships and submarines, all while automatically unleashing defenses against enemy aircraft and missiles threatening the fleet, forces or homeland. And the system will remain robust despite budget cuts from sequestration: On Tuesday, March 5, Lockheed Martin was awarded a five-year, $100.7 million contract to maintain and upgrade the Aegis combat system.
In the wee hours of Valentine’s Day at 4:10 a.m. ET, the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii launched a medium range ballistic missile that headed northwest over the Pacific Ocean — the 30th test of the system since 2002.
Up in outer space, the Space Tracking and Surveillance System detected and tracked the “threat.” It sent the data back down to Earth to the USS Lake Eerie out at sea.
The ship processed the threat data and launched a Raytheon-made SM-3 Block IA missile, a defensive weapon that can destroy short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
In mere minutes the target was vaporized, one missile striking another like a bullet hitting a second bullet in flight. The impact is like a 10-ton truck traveling at 600 mph colliding with a wall, Raytheon says.
Over the past five years, more than 1,200 ballistic missiles have been added to the world’s arsenal, according to the Missile Defense Agency. The total outside the United States, NATO, Russia and China has now risen over 5,900 missiles.
American missile defense technology is designed to meet ballistic missile threats at all ranges from short to long, thanks to a “layered defense.”
The BMD system has three main components: detection, interception, and a communications and battle management network.
For target detection and tracking, there are networked sensors and ground- and sea-based radars in addition to the space-based sensors.
Ground- or sea-based interceptors launch missiles to destroy the target.
The third piece, the network, provides commanders with links between the sensors and the interceptor missiles.
Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense is the sea-based component of BMD.
To defend the homeland, Aegis ships patrol, detect and track ballistic missiles. The ships provide data to other Navy BMD ships and ground-based Midcourse Defense interceptors like Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
As of November 2012, there were 26 Aegis BMD combatants, comprising cruisers and destroyers, assigned to both the Pacific and Atlantic Fleet.
The MDA and the Navy are working together to increase the number of Aegis ships.