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The SM-3 Block IIBís planned primary mission was to help defend the United States by providing an added layer of defense to that already provided by ground based interceptors in California and Alaska. It is planned to have significantly greater capabilities than prior versions of the SM-3, which defend against different threats. It is also expected to contribute to regional defense against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

The SM-3 Block IIB entailed significant development beyond that required for the SM-3 Block IIA; for example, one option the program explored was to have a 27 inch diameter missile as opposed to the planned 21 inch diameter for the SM-3 Block IIA missile.

The SM-3 Block IIB program began in June 2010. The SM-3 Block IIB is planned to be fielded by 2022 at the earliest as part of the fourth phase of U.S. missile defense in Europe.

DOD has sought to provide an additional layer of U.S. homeland defense, which includes the capability to shoot a missile, look at the results of the shot, and shoot again if needed. This defense could be provided through missiles that intercept a threat early in its flight, during midcourse flight, or in the terminal stages of flight. A missile systemís physical location affects its ability to defend against certain threat flight paths as well as the overall capabilities and technologies that must be developed for that missile.

Prior to 2009, the plan for a layered U.S. homeland defense relied on deploying ground-based interceptors in Europe for midcourse defense. In 2009, this plan changed with the announcement of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). This approach is designed to provide both near term regional defense of Europe and develop longer-term layered defense for the U.S. homeland. It involves different locations and missiles than the prior plan.

The SM-3 Block IIB was to be a smaller, faster missile that, in concert with radars, sensors and other missile defense elements of the "Phased Adaptive Approach" to missile defense in Europe, will provide an early-intercept capability against medium- and intermediate-range and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. It would be housed in ground-based silos, but it would have flexibility that will enable it to be deployed in a variety of scenarios.

In 2011, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon were awarded MDA contracts worth more than $40 million apiece for the concept definition and program planning phase of the SM-3IIB's design. MDA expected to select one of the three companies in 2013 for the product development phase of the SM-3IIB system, including testing, flying and then going into production.

the SM-3 Block IIB program did not conduct a formal analysis of alternatives (AoA) prior to beginning technology development. AoAs provide insight into the technical feasibility and costs of alternatives by determining if a concept can be developed and produced within existing resources. Although the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is not required to do an AoA for its programs because of its acquisition flexibilities, an AoA can be a key step to ensure that new programs have a sound acquisition basis.

While program management officials identified two reviews that they consider similar to an AoA, the reviews were not intended to be AoAs, and they did not address all of the key questions that would normally be included as part of an AoA. For example, the reviews did not consider the life-cycle costs for each alternative or the programmatic risks of the alternatives. Further, while the reviews did consider alternatives that could provide validated capabilities, the range of alternatives considered did not include other (non-Aegis) missile options that could provide an additional layer of defense to the United States. This narrow range of alternatives is particularly problematic because it limits the quality of the answers that can be provided for other key questions.

MDA initially assumed that SM-3 Block IIB interceptors would be based on land at host nation facilities in Romania and Poland. However, subsequent MDA analyses demonstrated:

  • The Romania site was not a good location from a flight path standpoint for defending the United States with the SM-3 Block IIB.
  • The Poland site may require the development of the ability to launch the interceptor earlier--during the boost phase of the threat missile--to be useful for defense of the United States.
  • A ship-based SM-3 Block IIB in the North Sea is a better location for defense of the United States and it does not require launch during boost capabilities.

While MDA's initial assumption was the missile was to be land-based, the program is now requiring the SM-3 Block IIB to be ship and land compatible. However, if the SM-3 Block IIB is sea based and uses a liquid propellant, there are significant safety risks and unknown but likely significant cost implications. Navy has stated that the program may develop concepts with liquid propellants, but it has not made a final decision regarding whether it will overturn its 1988 ban on liquid propellants on ships and allow a sea-based SM-3 Block IIB to use liquid propellants.

MDA completed an assessment of launch during boost capabilities during summer 2012 that found this capability was feasible. With launch during boost, the missile launches during the boost phase of the threat missile. It intercepts the threat after the boost phase. Adding this capability would require additional development or modifications of the SM-3 Block IIB, the command and control system used for missile defense, and existing space-based sensors that detect threat missile launches.

MDA technical analysis in 2012 concluded that a ship-based SM-3 Block IIB in the North Sea is a better location for U.S. homeland defense and it does not require launch during boost capabilities.

One option currently under consideration for the SM-3 Block IIB was to use a liquid propellant for certain components. Liquid propellants offer performance advantages, such as a faster missile, but pose significant safety risks and costs for ships. The Navy banned the use of liquid propellants on ships in 1988 because of significant safety and cost reasons, including fire hazards and the costs of new systems to combat fires caused by these propellants on ships. While the Navy was open to MDA pursuing an interceptor with liquid propellant during the programís concept definition phase, it identified this option as requiring significant efforts to reduce the safety risk and fleet wide changes.

On 15 March 2013, US Secretary of Defense Hagel announced that the US was restructuring the SM-3 Block IIB program. It had been planned that SM-3 IIB would be deployed as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach. The purpose was to add to the protection of the US homeland already provided by existing Ground Based Interceptors against missile threats from the Middle East. The timeline for deploying the program was subsequently delayed to at least 2022 due to cuts in congressional funding. Resources from SM-3 IIB, described as a "lagging program," would be shifted to fund the additional GBIs, as well as advanced kill vehicle technology that would improve the performance of the GBI and other versions of the SM-3 interceptor, adding protection against missiles from Iran sooner while also providing additional protection against the North Korean threat.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 24-02-2017 19:56:13 ZULU