US defence giant Raytheon has performed the first flight test of its new ballistic missile designed to destroy targets in space.
The SM-3 Block IIA was developed jointly by the US and Japan with the former investing $2bn into the programme and the latter approximately $1bn.
"It is the US Department of Defense's best case of equal funding and engineering shared with an allied country to develop and ... field a new weapon system to better enhance the national security of both nations," said Riki Ellison, who heads the non-profit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
The successful test saw the missile being launched from a MK 41 launcher located at the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range Saint Nicolas Island Facility, California.
During the flight test, engineers focused on the nosecone performance, steering control section functioning, booster separation and second stage rocket motor separation. The weapon wasn’t chasing any simulated oncoming rocket.
“The success of this test keeps the program on track for a 2018 deployment at sea and ashore,” said Mitch Stevison, Raytheon Missile Systems’ SM-3 program director.
According to Raytheon, the SM-3 Block IIA’s larger rocket motors and bigger, more capable kill vehicle will deliver the capability to engage threats sooner and protect larger regions from short- to intermediate-range ballistic missile threats.
The SM-3 IIA is a 21-inch variant of an earlier SM-3 missile, which works with the US Aegis combat system built by Lockheed Martin Corp to destroy incoming ballistic missile threats in space.
The missile is designed to hit its target at almost 1,000 km/h, completely obliterating the threat without the need for additional explosives.
The system will see further testing and refining being carried out over the next three years before the weapons are deployed on US Navy Aegis ships, Japan's Kongo ships, and at land-based Aegis Ashore sites in Poland and Romania.