The Navy and Lockheed Martin recently tested an airborne-relay sensor and networking technology that allows ships to locate and destroy threats and targets that would otherwise be beyond the radar horizon, service and industry officials said.
Called the Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air, or NIFC-CA, the August test involved the firing of a Standard Missile 6, or SM-6, from the USS Chancellorsville, a Navy cruiser.
An airborne sensor identifies a target beyond the horizon and networks that information into the ship’s fire control system, allowing the ship’s radar to track and destroy targets at much greater distances, Navy and Lockheed officials said.
“Initial track detections are made by the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft and are forwarded over our CEC (cooperative engagement capability) network,” a Navy official said. “The ‘from the sea’ kill chain aspect of NIFC-CA results in an SM-6 missile being launched from an Aegis ship at a contact that is located over the traditional radar horizon.”
Therefore, should things continue to develop with NIFC-CA, the technology brings the possibility of greatly extending the protective envelope surrounding ships at sea.
“Being able to take on a target that is beyond a ship’s radar horizon is very significant. That is a capability that ships did not have before,” said Jim Sheridan, a Lockheed official.
Overall, the Navy plans to expand the number of ships with Aegis Radar capability as well as continue to improve the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense weapons system software. The Aegis BMW weapons system software is configured in increments, ranging from Aegis BMD 3.6 to 4.0, 5.0 and 5.1.
There are currently 22 Navy cruisers and 62 Navy destroyers equipped with Aegis technology, Navy officials said. Of these ships, five cruisers and 28 destroyers are currently capable of Ballistic Missile Defense. At the same time, the Navy plans to continue to upgrade much of its fleet with Aegis BMD weapons system 4.0, 5.0 and 5.1, service officials said.
The Navy plans to have two cruisers and seven destroyers equipped with Aegis BMD 4.0, numbers which may very well grow larger, service officials indicated. At the same time, six of the Navy’s original destroyers will receive BMD 5.0.
“Our newer destroyers will all be equipped with BMD 5.0 and follow-on variants such as 5.1. That includes modernizing all destroyers with hull numbers 79 - 112 to have this capability and building all new destroyers, beginning with hull number 113 from ‘the keel up’ with this level of capability,” a Navy official said.
Both BMD 5.0 and BMD 5.1 have the technology to enable a multi-mission signal processor which allows ships to conduct air defense missions and ballistic missile defense missions concurrently.
“The Aegis Multi-mission Signal Processor (MMSP) is a piece of equipment which combines a BMD Signal Processor and an advanced SPY radar signal processor in a single cabinet. BMD 5.0 and follow-on variants will use the MMSP. This piece of equipment, among other things, uses synthetic processing to help the ship discriminate lethal objects from the debris cloud that accompanies a ballistic missile en route to its target,” Navy officials said.
The Navy destroyer USS John Paul Jones is currently configured with Aegis BMD 5.0; the ship is slated for additional air defense testing at the Pacific Missile Test Facility, Hawaii.