TechUS Navy's first combat use of SM-3 missile to stop Iranian attack

US Navy's first combat use of SM‑3 missile to stop Iranian attack

SM-3 missile launched from the cruiser USS Lake Erie
SM-3 missile launched from the cruiser USS Lake Erie
Images source: © Public domain
2:29 PM EDT, April 15, 2024

According to The War Zone, the US Navy could deploy the SM-3 missile under combat conditions for the first time to intercept short—and medium-range ballistic missiles. It's speculated that it played a role in neutralizing an Iranian ballistic missile approximately 62 miles above the Earth, right at the edge of the atmosphere and outer space.

On the morning of April 13th, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps launched a missile air attack targeting Israel. Following the assault, the Israel Defense Forces revealed that they managed to neutralize 99 percent of the over 300 drones and missiles fired towards Israel. Allies, including the United States, actively contributed to the country's defense.

American forces might test new weaponry

As per CNN, US officials acknowledged that over 70 drones and three ballistic missiles were intercepted by US Navy ships and aircraft. Yet, they refrained from sharing specifics about the operations, leaving the exact defensive measures employed unclear.

The War Zone speculates that a couple of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers positioned in the eastern Mediterranean Sea during Iran's offensive against Israel were involved. These ships could have launched SM-3 missiles via the Aegis BMD (AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense) system.

The Aegis BMD, a premier maritime anti-ballistic missile system, melds guidance, detection, and fire control capabilities and comprises sensors, interceptors, and a command and control framework. The SM-3 missiles, central to this setup, are designed to counter hostile ballistic missiles. These hit-to-kill weapons obliterate their targets by colliding with them at high speeds. They boast a range of up to 746 miles and notably have the capacity to take down enemy missiles in low earth orbit, doubling as anti-satellite weaponry.

Despite being rigorously tested for decades, the War Zone notes the lack of public records on the SM-3's deployment against actual combat targets. The outlet mentioned, "The first combat use of SM-3 would be an incredible milestone for the SM-3 program, which has undergone a long, challenging, and at times contentious, development process."

The SM-3 missile operates in three stages. Initially, it is launched from a ship into space. In its mid-course phase, it travels through space, utilizing onboard sensors and data from ground radars to adjust its trajectory. In the terminal phase, the missile releases a 'kill vehicle' that collides with and annihilates the target with the generated impact force. Raytheon, the producer of the SM-3, likens this impact to a 10-ton truck hitting at a speed of around 602 mph.

Crucially, the SM-3 can maneuver upon locating its target, enhancing its likelihood of striking even against missiles that perform evasive actions. The War Zone highlights that the SM-3 can guard against more advanced ballistic missiles over a larger area than its predecessor, the SM-6, which engages targets differently by striking them as they re-enter the atmosphere near their intended destination.

SM-3 Block IIA missile
SM-3 Block IIA missile© Raytheon
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