In total, the Navy has authorized use of the SM-6 to expand from five ships to more than 35 ships.
"This effort is steeped in fleet requirements, focusing on delivering capability to support urgent operational needs in targeted areas of responsibility,” a Navy official told Military.com
Previously, the SM-6 was only configured to fire from the most recent Aegis radar combat weapons system on Navy ships, a system called Aegis baseline nine. The Navy’s new authorization allows the SM-6 to integrate with the software and electronics used in Aegis Combat Weapon System baselines 5.3 and 3.A.0.
The Navy’s Aegis Weapon System, currently deployed on cruisers and destroyers, is a command and control technology using computers linked to a multi-function, phased array AN/SPY-1B radar. The high-powered, four megawatt Aegis radar is able to search and track more than 100 potential targets, Navy officials said.
“We came to the realization that we can do AAW(anti-air warfare) with baseline 5. That opened up a world of potential for concept of operations for the Navy –for fleet defense and area defense strategies,” said Mike Campisi, SM-6 program director, Raytheon.
The SM-6, which first became operational in December of last year, is engineered with both an active and semi-active seeker, giving it an increased ability to discern and discriminate targets when compared to other missiles, Campisi explained.
“It has capabilities to go over-the-horizon,” he said.
In addition to missile defense and defense against fixed and rotary wing aircraft, the SM-6 can also defend against land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles in flight. Having an over-the-horizon ability against anti-ship cruise missiles could prove extremely advantageous as it brings the possibility of destroying them at much greater ranges.
“As we pursue the multi-mission role for SM-6, we’re trying to understand the entire kill chain,” Campisi.
Also, by having active guidance technology engineered into the missile, the SM-6 extends the range of the ship’s radar and also frees up the ship’s radar to focus on additional potential targets.
"Semi-Active mode means the radar has to see what it’s shooting at and guide in the missile. A ship’s radar won’t see over the horizon and won’t be able to guide in to anything that is beyond the horizon. Active mode is not tied to radar,” Campisi said.
So far, Raytheon has delivered 160 SM-6 missiles to the Navy and is on contract to deliver another 232 missiles. The Navy plans to move into full-rate production of the SM-6 in April of this year as an initial move toward eventually procuring as many as 1,800 SM-6 missiles.
Final SM-6 assembly takes place at Raytheon's production facility at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.