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In the early 1990’s in a response to Iraq’s use of Scud missiles during Desert Storm the U.S. military, led by the then Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), now the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), began investing in defenses against shorter range threats. Previous efforts had been oriented to defending the United States from the large the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (IBCM) based in the Soviet Union. All three of the major services had programs but the focus was on U.S. Army and Navy missile systems.
The Navy began developing 2 different systems that mirrored the Army’s path. Both involved modifying their current primary long range air defense system, AEGIS. This utilized large phase arrayed radars and the STANDARD Missile-2 (SM-2) interceptor. The AEGIS radars and other systems had originally been developed by General Electric (GE) but by the mid-1990’s had transitioned through Martin Marietta to Lockheed Martin (LMT). The SM-2 was produced by Hughes Missile Systems and Raytheon (RTN) but ultimately Raytheon acquired the whole business.
First, the missile, radars and command and control systems would have capability added to defense against shorter range missiles but still maintain their air defense mission. The Army was doing the same thing with their Patriot surface-to-air missile system. Secondly, a dedicated missile utilizing an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle would be developed. That meant the missile would not be able to engage air breathing targets but much longer ranged missiles.
By the early part of this century the air defense capable version, SM-2 Block IVA, had been cancelled due to budget and schedule issues. The long range SM-3, though, continued development and testing. It has proved successful including being able to intercept and destroy a failing satellite in 2008. The system has entered production and several cruisers and destroyers have been modified to utilize it. The Navy has continued development and the new SM-6 missile has just entered production at a new factory in Huntsville, AL.
The MDA has also decided as a way to supplement the current Ground Based Mid-Course System based in Alaska to develop “AEGIS Ashore”. This places the radars, other systems and missiles in trailers and containers that can be set up in different places and even moved around as necessary.
This program made a major step forward recently with the build up of the first test set that will be installed ultimately at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Kauai, Hawaii for testing. Once that system is moved a second one will be installed at the main AEGIS production and development center in New Jersey. Ultimately the first set will be set up in Eastern Europe.
Originally the Bush Administration had planned on an expansion of the Alaskan ground based system into Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. This was cancelled by the Obama Administration and AEGIS Ashore substituted. There is also plans to utilize AEGIS ships to provide missile defense converge of parts of NATO in Europe.
AEIGS Ashore is just one part of the continued Navy and U.S. investment in missile defense as it includes upgrades to the AEGIS radars, C2 systems and steady development of the STANDARD Missile. All of this will be to the advantage of key contractors like Lockheed and Raytheon. Further developments of a new radar, the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) also include bidders like Northrop Grumman (NOC) so as the program develops there will be chances of contract wins and work for other contractors. These efforts could also flow into the AEGIS Ashore or its replacement system in the future.