The system, called Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air, or NIFC-CA, uses a Standard Missile 6 and an airborne sensor to track and destroy approaching cruise missiles at much longer distances than existing technologies can.
“The NIFC-CA capability pushes out the engagement envelope that these ships have not had previously. You are pushing the engagement envelope beyond the radar horizon,” said Jim Sheridan, director of Aegis U.S. Navy programs at Lockheed Martin. “There’s an airborne sensor that’s involved. Once the missile leaves the ship you are actually firing it at something that the ship itself cannot see because the engagement takes place beyond the horizon.”
The test is slated for this coming June aboard the USS John Paul Jones, DDG 53. The first test firing, which involved a successful demonstration of the defensive technology, took place last August aboard a Navy cruiser -- the USS Chancellorsville, CG62.
“This is the next step in the testing. Previously it was tested from a cruiser configuration and now we’re testing it in a destroyer configuration. Some of the parameters of the target and the flight profile are a little different. Let’s just characterize it as a more stressful test than the one on board the USS Chancellorsville,” Sheridan added.
The SM6 interceptor missile uses an active seeker to zero in on an approaching target at distances greater than a ship’s on-board sensors can detect. Sheridan said the SM6 used for NIFC-CA leverages technology similar to the active guidance system engineered into an air-to-air beyond visual range missile, the AIM-120 Advanced-Air-to-Air Medium Range Missile.
"NIFC-CA employs ships and aircraft to consummate missile engagements beyond the radar horizon. This execution is operational rocket science. Those who master it will be identified as the best and brightest," said Capt. Jim Kilby, deputy for ballistic missile defense Aegis combat systems and destroyers, surface warfare directorate, N96, according to a blog post.
The NIFCA-CA is slated to deploy with Navy forces in 2015 as part of the Teddy Roosevelt battle group, so this cruise missile defense technology will be protecting the fleet pretty soon.
NIFC-CA is part of the Navy’s upgraded Aegis ballistic missile defense system called Baseline 9 which is being engineered into ships now under construction such as DDG 113 through DDG 118, Sheridan said.
Baseline 9 uses a common source code for a variety of applications so as to be able to tailor in functions and applications as needed, he added.
Much of the discussion regarding the Pentagon’s pacific rebalance hinges forward presence and developing technologies able to overcome Anti-Access/Area-Denial threats such as long-range, guided anti-ship cruise missiles designed to prevent ships such as carrier groups from entering closer to the coastline.
Many analysts have said that Chinese and North Korean cruise missile technology, for example, is advancing rapidly and being designed to deny potential adversaries access at much farther distances off their shores.
In particular, a 2013 ballistic and cruise missile threat assessment from the National Air and Space Intelligence Center identified a host of particular threats and systems in the pacific region.
The report cites numerous Chinese weapon s such as new conventionally armed medium range ballistic missiles called CSS-5 MRBMs. The report also says that both China and North Korea continue to develop and deploy large numbers of conventionally armed short and medium-range ballistic missiles.
NIFC-CA presents the Navy with a new technological tool to address these threats, potentially changing the equation regarding where and how ships will be able to operate.
“North Korea is doing a lot to challenge ships but we pride ourselves on staying ahead of that,” Sheridan said.