Today, the proliferation of missiles across the world poses a threat to western democracies. This threat, coupled with the inefficiencies of various, costly countering systems drives the requirements for common interceptors, common launchers and assured, joint command and control centers all necessitate the use of cross military service systems and allied interoperability for survival, deterrence and the ability to win. Until we mature, develop, and deploy a large capacity of directed energy systems, electromagnetic weapons, and the capability to launch cyberattacks on the opponent’s kill chain, we will have to rely on costly kinetic effectors. We have to make those effectors more efficient and less costly.
The one and only common effector being combat deployed across the oceans of the world and soon to be on land as part of the US Army’s Strategic Mid-Range Fires capability is the US Navy Standard Missile-6 (SM-6). The SM-6 missile is the only weapon that can perform anti-air warfare, ballistic missile defense and anti-surface warfare missions. SM-6 is a kinetic hit to kill defense against advanced aerial threats, advanced cruise missiles, and advanced ballistic missiles, with the inherent capability of doing point defense against hypersonic glide missiles. SM-6 also has the ability to strike moving and stationary land and sea targets.
A weapon that possesses both defensive and offensive capabilities, its ability to defend and to strike makes it one of the most advanced interceptors in the world and is in high demand for the United States Military. Over 800 SM-6 effectors are deployed in the MK41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) installed on more than 80 Navy surface ships. This same SM-6 effector could be deployed onto two existing Aegis Ashore Sites that have the VLS in Romania and Poland, as well as the test range VLS in Hawaii at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
The SM-6 remains an extremely important effector for the defense of Guam. SM-6 is currently deployed today on US Aegis ships that patrol the surrounding waters of Guam. As required by the United States Congress and Administration, Guam will be defended by a land-based SM-6and SM-3 system. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has the responsibility and task to design an architecture to include ground-based launchers that would be capable of firing SM-6 and SM-3 interceptors.
The SM-6 is a critical foundation key component of layered defense. It is positioned in the lower tier defense for cruise missiles with the SM-2 and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, and in the upper tier defense for ballistic missiles with the SM-3s. Layered defense uses multiple types of interceptors to target an incoming missile at several points in its trajectory to increase the system’s overall effectiveness.
It is the weapon of choice for the US Navy to best and most efficiently defend its Carrier Battle Groups and negate and destroy opponent striking platforms at sea or on land. SM-6 can carry out strikes on land and sea targets over 200 miles away whether on sea, on islands or off coastlines of continents. This anti-ship capability was primarily designed, deployed and evolved to counter the surface strike threat posed by Chinese naval vessels possessing long-range anti-ship cruise missiles, forcing them to stand off at ranges more favorable to U.S. aircraft carriers.
Last week on June 17, this offensive capability was tested during a sinking exercise (SINKEX) as part of Exercise Valiant Shield, where USS Benfold (DDG-65), equipped with a fully operational Aegis system, launched a SM-6 at a decommissioned floating Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, the ex-USS Vandegrift.
Currently deployed on the Aegis cruisers and destroyers, the SM-6 plays a pivotal role in the Indo-Pacific, the Atlantic, the Baltic, the North Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea as an extremely flexible and effective interceptor and striker. The SM-6 is linked into and dependent on the U.S. Navy’s Aegis Naval Integrated Fire Control—Counter Air (NIFC-CA) for command and control and provides launch on remote from other surface vessels with increased battlespace protection against over-the-horizon missile threats.
In December of 2019, the US Navy offered a solicitation to the International Standard Missiles Users Group to determine requirements for Standard Missile active variants including SM-6. This group consists of the US, Canada and Standard Missile users in Europe and Asia. A number of countries to include Canada, Japan, Korea and Australia are moving forward with studies, budgeting and contracting protocols to achieve this capability to include Australia with its Hobart and Hunter class frigates, South Korea with its Sejong the Great-class (KDX-III) Batch-II destroyers and Japan across of number of Aegis-class ships.
The Army has rebranded its road-mobile, ship-killing weapon system “Strategic Mid-Range Fires” to complete integration of a sea-based launcher on a truck to arm ground forces by next year with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Standard Missile-6. The Strategic Mid-Range Fires capability uses the Navy’s SM-6 Block IA and Tomahawk Block V missiles as part of the initial prototype. As approved by the Secretary of the Army, the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office will develop and deliver the initial prototype Strategic Mid-Range Fires capability operational battery in 2023.
In reducing the amount of variation and high cost in interceptors from across different services and allied nations, the SM-6 is an incredible solution that is a common interceptor, the common striker in production today that is a joint cross service and combined Allied capability.
The aggregated threats of Chinese, Russian, North Korean, and Iranian offensive missiles demand that we achieve incontrovertible relative-competitive advantage for integrated Missile Defense of common systems, rapidly. Even with the right sensors and the right Missile Defense architecture, our missiles must be in the right position with capacity, and they must be much better than adversary missiles. The SM-6 is exponentially better.
Going forward, we require a ‘one-shot, multiple-kill’ investment mindset to achieve affordable relative-competitive advantage and enduring victory.