The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) yesterday announced that it had successfully conducted an intercept test of the Aegis SM-3 Block IB interceptor. In the test, labeled FTM-21, two SM-3 Block IB interceptors were salvo launched (that is, sequentially launched against a single target) from the Aegis cruiser Lake Erie, equipped with the Aegis 4.0.2 system, at a short-range ballistic missile target with a separating warhead. The first of the two interceptors reportedly hit and destroyed the target warhead.
Figure 1. Illustration of FTM-21 (made prior to the test). Image source: MDA
This was the first salvo test using two SM-3 interceptors. In MDA’s previous intercept test, FTO-01 held on September 10, 2013, an SM-3 Block IA and a THAAD interceptor were salvo fired at a medium-range target. In both tests, the first interceptor reportedly hit the target, leaving nothing for the second missile to intercept.
According to the MDA, in FTM-21 “…the target complex was the most difficult engaged to date.” The target complex likely consists of at least the target warhead, the rocket booster, and debris associated with the warhead deployment. Whether any Aegis target complex has included other objects deliberately released (such as decoys) has not been publicly revealed.
This was the fourth successful intercept attempt of the Block IB interceptor, following an initial failed intercept attempt on September 1, 2011. The next Aegis test, FTM-22, is scheduled for later this year. If this test, of an SM-3 Block IB interceptor against a medium-range target, is successful, full rate production of the SM-3 Block IB could begin.