SM-6 missile dual-capability upgrade boosts US Navy’s air warfare capability

SM-6 missile dual-capability upgrade boosts US  Navy’s  air warfare capability
090730-N-XXXXX-001 The destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) launches a Standard Missile-3 as it operates in the Pacific Ocean on July 30, 2009. ÊThe missile successfully intercepted a sub-scale, short-range ballistic missile launched from the Kauai Test Facility, Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. ÊThe launch was the latest Missile Defense Agency test in conjunction with the U.S. Navy. DoD photo by U.S. Navy. Ê(Released)

The usage of SM-6 missile as an offensive weapon against surface targets is a new application for the Navy, which brings another type of surface firepower to the fleet.

The SM-6 is a dual-capability missile that can be used for either air defence (i.e., countering aircraft and anti-ship cruise missiles) or ballistic missile defence.

The US Navy has executed four flight tests of the surface-to-air Standard Missile-6 Block I (SM-6 Blk I) in Hawaii islands between April 6 and 13.

The Navy is preparing a variant of Standard Missile 6 missiles for combat by launching weapon engineered with updated software, enabling it to perform a number of functions including air warfare,  ballistic missile terminal defence and anti-surface warfare capabilities.

The tests follow recent Missile Defence Agency and Navy testing which simultaneously fired two Standard Missile-6 weapons in rapid succession at a single ballistic missile target. During the tests, two SM-6 missiles, using an active seeker technology, were able to simultaneously track and destroy a single target, improving the probability of a target kill. 

“These latest flight test successes demonstrate once again the versatile capability of SM-6 Blk I,” Capt. Michael Ladner, major program manager for Surface Ship Weapons, Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems, announced in a statement from Naval Sea Systems Command.

The SM-6’s software upgrades provide to the missile an active seeker to send a signal or electromagnetic ping forward in addition to receiving them. Electromagnetic signals, which travel at the speed of light, send a signal forward before analysing the return signal to determine the speed, size, shape, or configuration of an approaching threat. A computer algorithm, evaluating the speed of light and the time of travel, determines the exact distance of an object.

The SM-6 active seeker provides the missile to better attack manoeuvring as it is not wholly dependent upon a ship-based illuminator to bounce a signal off a target for a merely passive seeker to receive.

Compared with SM-3, the SM-6 can track and destroy lower-altitude threats such as a ballistic missile in the terminal phase of decent to its target.  The missile is now established as defensive, offensive and capable of three distinct missions.

Matteo Natalucci

Matteo Natalucci is a geopolitics expert working as an Editor in London covering all aspects of international affairs and technology. Matteo previously worked for the United Nations, the European Commission, Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg, IHS Markit, and Global Data. Get in touch with the author: matteo.natalucci@internationalinsider.org
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