Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System

The Aegis Ballistic Missile System (BMDS) is an integrated, advance radar and missile defense system employed by the United States Armed Forces and operated by the US Navy. The systems had its roots in the mid 1960s, when advances in anti-shipping missile platforms began to emerge as the most serious threat facing the world’s most powerful navy. In order to counter the threat these new system might present, the Navy issue a requirement seeking to implement an Advance Surface Missile System (ASMS). As the system began to develop, the Navy changed its designation to that of AEGIS. Such was the sophistication of the AEGIS missile system that the Navy needed to develop a new platform for its implementation. In 1977, the Navy issued an order to develop such platform in the form of a new cruiser.

The first AEGIS-carrying platform was based around the hull of a Spruance Class destroyer. Original designated as a guided missile destroyer, the newly refitted DDG47 was re-organized into a guided missile cruiser. The lead boat of this class was the USS Ticonderoga (CG47). She was commissioned in January 1983 as part of President Ronald Reagan’s massive military build-up of the early 1980s. The game changed when the USS Bunker Hill (CG52) came online, its commissioning ushered a new era in surface weapon platforms. The ‘Hill was the first US ship to deploy a fully operational Vertical Launching System (VLS) designed to counter any airborne threat. As more AEGIS-carrying ships were launched, the system evolved from a purely theater-based system to a larger defensive mechanism capable of supporting large expanse of, not only sea, but land areas. It is this system that is currently the backbone of the United States BMDS platform.

Today, the US deploys three AEGIS capable cruisers and seven destroyers. All fitted with the vaunted SM-3 missile system. The SM-3 is the current incarnation of the SM-2 block IV system. The SM-3 used the same booster and dual thrust rocket system as the SM-2 for the first and second rocket stages. It also used basically the same steering control package and missile guidance system for trans-atmospheric operation. To support the new exo-atmospheric interception profile, the SM-3 used a new third rocket stage for additional thrust. The SM-3 employs a dual-pulse rocket system for exo-atmospheric operation and a Lightweight Exo-atmospheric Projectile with a Kinetic Warhead for the missile’s interception phase. The interception missile received its data from sensors in space and others elements in the BMDS network. The complete system is designed to be autonomous after its launch. The SM-3 can detect, track and engage any ballistic missile threat in its assigned area of operation. The SM-3 Kinetic Warhead does not posses a high explosive fuse, instead, the warhead relies on its kinetic energy released during the missile’s impact with its designated target. The complete energy release is estimated to be above 125 mega joules.

One of the missile system’s backbones is its advance computer soft and hardware integrated system. Raytheon software architecture is design in such way that the overall capability of the system is expanding at the same rate its projected targets threats are perceived to do.

The AEGIS BDM serves the US Armed Forces as its most forward deployed sensors extending the military’s overall battlefield vision. It also provides commanders with a forward tracking and targeting platform for the defense of the United States, Alaska and Hawaii. As the system continues to grow, the integration of the AEGIS with the overall BDM capability of the US Armed Forces will continue. As of today, the AEGIS missile system had provided twelve successful interceptions out of fourteen attempts. These attempts were performed against short-to-medium rage ballistic missiles utilizing a unitary or separating warhead. It’s expected that by the end of the winter of 2008, all 18 ships of the AEGIS class would be fitted with the most advance computer architecture available. The system next evolutionary step will be taken on 2009 and 2010, when its overall capability will be upgraded once more in order to cover a difference defense spectrum, the target’s thermal phase. This upgrade will also provide the SM-3 with a mid-course discrimination tracking, guiding and engagement mechanism that would allow this theater program to engage long range ballistic missiles.

As the AEGIS operates as integrated part of the BMDS platform, its overall capability upgrade will provide the system to coordinate short, medium and even long range missile threats engagements in both, thermal and mid-course stages.

– Raul Colon

More information:
wikipedia: Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System
AEGIS Combat System
RIM-161 SM-3

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