In past articles, I’ve covered the cool tech used to hit a bullet with a bullet. From their start as replacements of WWII anti-aircraft guns to the phased-array radar guided missiles of today. But that was the 20th century.
After the first Gulf War, Dept. of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted a system that would shoot missiles down over the enemy’s country. It’s no use hitting a missile with a nuclear warhead over the country you are protecting, the toxic, radioactive material would still land on you (better than an explosion, but still…).
So PAC-3 was first. Developed as part of “Star Wars”, it hit a missile with a missile. By kinetic force alone it would cause the missile to explode and disburse the toxic stuff over such a wide area that it would be harmless. The problem was the the range was only a little better than Patriot.
THAAD was developed as the next step. Theater High Altitude Air Defense (now Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), would use a bigger missile to hit enemy missiles father out, preferable in space. By going so high, toxic stuff would burn up in the atmosphere. A high powered mobile radar would ensure that the system could see what it’s hitting and not hit a decoy.
It had a rocky start. Many of the first tests were failures. From 1995 to 1999, the tests did not go well. After ’99, Lockheed made changes. Aside from failures with the Hera target missile, the tests have been successes. In fact a test in March of this year the following occured:
Two different Thaad interceptors were launched against a single target, simulating an Army operational concept of dispatching a salvo of weapons to ensure a threat is destroyed. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and industry officials declared the flight test a success shortly after it was executed.
However, they disclosed to Aviation Week only recently that the results exceeded their expectations. Early reports from the Pentagon said the second interceptor was intentionally destroyed in flight after the first disabled the target in a hit-to-kill engagement.
“Actually, what happened on the flight test was that the first interceptor hit just as it was supposed to and the second interceptor looked at all of this debris and said, ‘OK, I’ve got another something that looks interesting,’ picked out another threat, and went out and killed it,” says Tom McGrath, Thaad vice president for prime contractor Lockheed Martin. “The second intercept hit another piece of hardware. We can’t talk about what that was, but it picked out what logically you would expect it to pick out and killed it.”
–Industry, MDA Buoyed By Thaad Success, Aviation Week
The system consists of a mobile X-band radar, the AN/TPY-2. It was developed from a mobile radar designed to look for ICBMs. It has a greater range than the Patriot Radar. By seeing farther, it can see missiles before they deploy decoys or launch MIRVs. The interceptors are built by Lockheed Martin.
A THAAD Launcher
It is now a proven system, with the first line unit at Fort Bliss. The last test was so awesome that other missiles are being added to the system. A land based version of the SM-3 missile is being offered to compliment THAAD.
Now AEGIS and the standard missile have a storied navy history.
Designed to replace the Terrier missile systems, the Typhon system went over budget. The replacement to became Aegis Combat System. Named by Navy Captain L. J. Stecher, aegis is the shield of Zeus. From Wikipedia:
The ACS is composed of the Aegis Weapon System (AWS), the fast-reaction component of the Aegis Anti-Aircraft Warfare (AAW) capability, along with the Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS), the MK 41 VLS, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASuW) systems, and Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles (TLAM). Shipboard torpedo and naval gunnery systems are also integrated. AWS, the heart of Aegis, comprises the AN/SPY-1 Radar, MK 99 Fire Control System, WCS, the Command and Decision Suite, and SM-2 Standard Missile systems. The Aegis Combat System is controlled by an advanced, automatic detect-and-track, multi-function three-dimensional passive electronically scanned array radar, the AN/SPY-1. Known as “the Shield of the Fleet”, the SPY high-powered (four megawatt) radar is able to perform search, tracking, and missile guidance functions simultaneously with a track capacity of well over 100 targets at more than 100 nautical miles (190 km).
The system has been exported to several countries. Japan, Australia, South Korea, Spain, Norway to name a few.
Now here is where the story gets crazy wierd (but AWESOME). Musician Jeff “Skunk” Baxter , of the bands Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers enters the missile defense story:
Baxter fell into his second profession almost by accident. In the mid-1980s, Baxter’s interest in music recording technology led him to wonder about hardware and software that was originally developed for military use, i.e. data-compression algorithms and large-capacity storage devices. As it happened, his next-door neighbor was a retired engineer who had worked on the Sidewinder missile program. This neighbor bought Baxter a subscription to an aviation magazine, provoking his interest in additional military-oriented publications and missile defense systems in particular. He became self-taught in this area, and at one point he wrote a five-page paper that proposed converting the ship-based anti-aircraft Aegis missile into a rudimentary missile defense system. He gave the paper to California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and his career as a defense consultant began.
Backed by several influential Capitol Hill lawmakers, Baxter received a series of classified security clearances. In 1995, Pennsylvania Republican congressman Curt Weldon, then the chairman of the House Military Research and Development Subcommittee, nominated Baxter to chair the Civilian Advisory Board for Ballistic Missile Defense.
It was his advocacy that led to the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. The Lightweight Exo-atmospheric Projectile (LEAP) was developed as part of SDI. It was tested on the Terrier missile against Army ballistic missiles. Putting a SDI-era weapon on the SM-3 missile turned an anti-aircraft weapon into a mobile missile defense platform.
Image of FM-3 test target just before impact
Tested against ballistic missiles it’s biggest triumph was downing a wayward satellite. USA 193 was a spysat at the end of it’s life. Faulty from the beginning, it was destroyed on February 21, 2008. An SM-3 fired by the USS Lake Erie made the intercept.
USA 193 exploding.
These two systems stand ready to defense the US and our allies against ballistic missile threats.