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November 18, 2020

Johns Hopkins APL Assists in Historic Standard Missile-3 Takedown of an ICBM Target

Image of SM-3 Block IIA launch

An SM-3 Block IIA is launched from the USS John Finn, an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System-equipped destroyer, as part of Flight Test Aegis Weapons System-44 (FTM-44) on Nov. 16. FTM-44 is a developmental test satisfying a congressional mandate to evaluate the feasibility of the SM-3 Block IIA missile’s capability to defeat an ICBM threat.

Credit: Missile Defense Agency


Image of SM-3 Block IIA launch
Image of SM-3 Block IIA launch

An SM-3 Block IIA is launched from the USS John Finn, an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System-equipped destroyer, as part of Flight Test Aegis Weapons System-44 (FTM-44) on Nov. 16. As the technical direction agent to the Program Executive for Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, APL conducts analyses, risk assessments, and critical experiments and develops prototypes in key program areas. The Laboratory also performs to prove concepts in high technological risk areas.

Credit: Missile Defense Agency

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, played a critical role in a successful and historic flight demonstration led by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) — in which a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile, for the first time, intercepted and destroyed a threat-representative intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) target.

At approximately 7:50 p.m. (Hawaii Standard Time) on Nov. 16, the ICBM-representative target was launched from the Reagan Test Site toward the broad ocean area northeast of Hawaii. Using engage-on-remote capabilities through the Command-and-Control Battle Management Communications (C2BMC) network, sailors aboard the USS John Finn tracked and then launched an SM-3 Block IIA guided missile toward the target, destroying it.

“This was an incredible accomplishment and critical milestone for the Aegis BMD SM-3 Block IIA program,” said Vice Admiral Jon Hill, MDA director. “We have demonstrated that an Aegis BMD-equipped vessel equipped with the SM-3 Block IIA missile can defeat an ICBM-class target, which is a step in the process of determining its feasibility as part of an architecture for the layered defense of the homeland. My congratulations to the entire test team, including our military and industry partners, who helped us to achieve this milestone.”

As the technical direction agent to the Program Executive for Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), APL conducts analyses, risk assessments and critical experiments in key program areas. APL experts also perform experiments and develop prototypes to prove concepts in high-risk technological areas.

“This flight test mission success, which demonstrates the robustness of the Aegis BMD combat system and the SM-3 Block IIA missile, exemplifies the continued partnership between APL, MDA and industry,” said Barbara Lakota, Aegis BMD program area manager in APL’s Air and Missile Defense Sector.

Designated Flight Test Aegis Weapons System-44 (FTM-44), the Nov. 16 trial was the sixth flight test of an Aegis BMD-equipped vessel using the SM-3 Block IIA. FTM-44 was initially scheduled for May but was delayed because of personnel and equipment movement restrictions intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Preliminary data indicated the test met its primary objective: demonstrate the SM-3 Block IIA’s ability to intercept an ICBM target. Program officials at APL will continue to evaluate system performance based on telemetry and other data obtained during the test.

“The success of the mission reflects the hard work and dedication that the APL SM-3 Block IIA team put forth leading up to the event, which began over a year ago,” said Naru Takashima, the Aegis BMD SM-3 development project manager at APL.

FTM-44 satisfies a congressional mandate to evaluate the SM-3 Block IIA missile’s feasibility to defeat an ICBM threat before the end of 2020. The SM-3 Block IIA was originally designed and built to counter intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

The Aegis Ballistic Missile Weapons System is the naval component of the U.S. Missile Defense System. The MDA and the Navy cooperatively manage the Aegis BMD system. Aegis BMD ships (and Aegis Ashore) receive tracking data via the C2BMC system, build the fire control solutions, then launch and guide SM-3 missiles to destroy incoming threats.

An animation of the test, as well as additional information about all elements of the U.S. Missile Defense System, can be found at https://www.mda.mil/index.html.

Find the broadcast-quality video on the MDA page of DVIDS.

Media contacts:

Ken Melton, 240-592-3864, Ken.Melton@jhuapl.edu
Deidre Forster, MDA Public Affairs Officer, 571-213-3522, Deidre.Forster@mda.mil

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.