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Navy Pursues SM-6 as Defense Against Cruise Missile Threats

Sea Power Correspondent

Sea Power
November 2004

The global proliferation of cruise missiles, predicted widely after Operation Desert Storm, has yet to materialize. But the lack of an immediate threat is not stopping the U.S. Navy from updating measures to counter antiship missiles as well as land-attack cruise missiles.

The Missile Defense Agency estimates that in the next 10 years as many as 20 countries could possess cruise missiles. The Russians are working with India to develop a cruise missile that is not covered by the Missile Technology Control Regime, an informal and voluntary association of 34 countries that want to foster the nonproliferation of unmanned systems that can delivery weapons of mass destruction. Members include Russia and the United States. India, China, Iran and North Korea are not members.

These and other developments could lead to widespread purchases of the weapons among nations or the manufacturing of copycats. Should that proliferation occur -- and along with it, an increase in the likelihood of a terrorist organization obtaining a cruise missile -- the Navy needs to be ready, said Steven Zaloga, an analyst with the Teal Group, an aerospace consulting firm in Fairfax, Va.

“The threat could pop up suddenly, overnight, and the problem with countermeasures is [that] you cannot field them overnight,” he said.

While much attention has been focused on ballistic-missile defense, the Navy has always been concerned with cruise missiles, which fly below radar, hugging the terrain or the ocean surface. The Navy faces a threat from land-attack cruise missiles as well as antiship missiles.

“That is why they are pursuing a weapon that can handle both,” Zaloga said.

That weapon is the Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) extended-range active missile, or ERAM.

For use as an anti-air warfare and area air-defense missile, the SM-6 is expected to provide extended-range anti-air warfare capability against a multitude of targets, including aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles and land-attack and antiship cruise missiles in flight, either over sea or land.

With its active radar system, the SM-6 also is expected to engage over-the-horizon targets using a future networked fire-control data system for targeting.

The SM-6 is designed to replace the Navy’s Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) Block IV surface-to-air missile, which was not purchased in large quantities because it was to be replaced by the SM-2 Block IVA that was to have anti-air warfare and theater ballistic-missile defense capability.

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But the Block IVA, along with the Navy’s entire area missile-defense program, was canceled by the Defense Department in December 2001 because of poor contract performance and cost overruns. Acquisition and average procurement unit costs had exceeded original goals by more than 50 percent, and the project was more than two years behind schedule when it was scrapped.

The Navy does not expect to have the same financial problems with the SM-6. The service awarded a $440 million sole-source contract to Raytheon in September for development, production, testing and delivery of the weapon.

“Raytheon was the only source that can satisfy the extended-range and active-seeker requirements associated with a ship-launched extended-range active missile within the required time frame,” a Navy official from the Integrated Warfare Systems Program Executive Office said in a written statement.

Development of the SM-6 will rely heavily on technology already produced by Raytheon, including using the airframe of the SM-2 Block IV missile and the advanced seeker technology of the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM.

“By employing our combat-proven [AMRAAM] technology on our widely deployed and ship-certified Standard Missile-2 airframe, we have created a highly effective and affordable extended-range anti-air warfare solution with minimum risk for our Navy customer,” said Edward Miyshiro, Raytheon’s Naval Weapons Systems vice president.

The SM-6 will have two guidance modes -- active and semi-active -- which will allow it to engage standard targets now and give more flexibility in the future, the Navy said.


© 2004 Navy League of the United States. All rights reserved.

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