One of the most significant achievements in the history of Missile Defense operations happened this morning. At 12:58 am EST, the U.S. Navy Aegis Destroyer USS John Finn in the Pacific Ocean off of Hawaii tracked, discriminated, and destroyed an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile target launched from Kwajalein with an SM3 Block IIA interceptor missile. Marking the first time an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was intercepted from a Naval Vessel in history. It is a remarkable systems engineering feat, accomplished in a remarkable time of COVID-19, by the remarkable men and women of the Missile Defense Agency and the United States Navy under the leadership of MDA Director Vice Admiral Jon Hill and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Program Executive Rear Admiral Tom Druggan.
This historic engineering accomplishment demonstrates the ability to intercept ICBMs from U.S. Navy Aegis BMD Ships and SM3 Block IIA globally. This achievement enables the ballistic missile defense of Hawaii from North Korea ICBMs; an underlayer of ballistic missile defense to the Western United States from North Korea ICBMs; the first-ever layer of ballistic missile defense of the Eastern United States from potential Iranian ICBMs; a ballistic missile defense of Europe from Iran; an underlayer of ballistic missile defense to the southern United States from the Gulf of Mexico; and an underlayer of ballistic missile defense to the Midwest from North Korean ICBMs of the United States from the Great Lakes. This historic achievement mitigates the risk posed by the delay in growing protection of the U.S. homeland against the North Korean ICBM threat based on the time needed to develop the Next Generation Interceptor.
The Historic achievement fulfills the tasking of the Missile Defense Review to develop an Underlayer for the defense of the United States of America. The ICBM was intercepted by the SM3 Block IIA, which is co-developed and co-produced with Japan, fulfilling burden-sharing and cooperation with Allies on Missile Defense stated by the MDR. This historic achievement also potentially sets the precedent for Allies that have Aegis BMD Ships in their fleets.
“This was an incredible accomplishment and critical milestone for the Aegis BMD SM-3 Block IIA program. The Department is investigating the possibility of augmenting the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system by fielding additional sensors and weapon systems to hedge against unexpected developments in the missile threat. 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 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.” MDA Director, Vice Admiral Jon Hill; speaking on the SM-3 Block IIA test; November 17, 2020.
Today the United States has 6 Aegis BMD Ships in the Pacific and an Aegis Ashore site in Hawaii. This successful test shows that these assets are now capable of shooting down ICBMs, with one of them – the USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) – homeported in Everett, Washington. The United States has 5 Aegis BMD Ships in the Atlantic that are capable of shooting down ICBMs, one of them – the USS Roosevelt (DDG-80) – is homeported in Rota, Spain.
Increasing the number of Aegis Modernizations for inservice Aegis DDGs, and consideration for the addition of this mission in the Navy’s Unmanned Large Surface Vehicle (LUSV) missions via CNO’s recent direction on the NOVEL Force and its enabler PROJECT OVERMATCH has the potential of rapidly expanding US Homeland Defense in depth against Iranian and North Korean aggression.
As a DOD press release on this morning’s SM-3 Block IIA test points out, “FTM 44 satisfies a Congressional Mandate to evaluate the feasibility of the SM-3 Block IIA missile’s capability to defeat an ICBM threat before the end of 2020.”
The limiting factor today is the rate of production of the SM3 Block IIA interceptors which is likely to increase as the Senate and House Appropriations Committee are in conference on their bills and are expected to provide additional funding above the President’s Budget for these interceptors in the final Appropriations Act sent to the President.
It is a legacy achievement for President Trump and his Administration, with the test bringing the U.S. closer to fulfilling the goals outlined in the 2019 Missile Defense Review.
“In a time of rapidly evolving threats, we must be certain that our defensive capabilities are unrivaled and unmatched anywhere in the world. All over, foreign adversaries, competitors, and rogue regimes are steadily enhancing their missile arsenals. All over. Their arsenals are getting bigger and stronger. And we’re getting bigger and stronger, in every way. They’re increasing their lethal strike capabilities, and they’re focused on developing long-range missiles that could reach targets within the United States.” President Donald J. Trump; speaking at the announcement of the 2019 Missile Defense Review, January 17, 2019.
President Trump’s clear illumination of the threat, and his call to action was right. This wisdom and the courage to take decisive action all the way through to unprecedented and historic achievement is the American way.