It’s Rocket Science

January 25, 2011

Dear Members and Friends,

On the outskirts of Sacramento, California late on Sunday night January 23rd, the most critical component of the new Aegis and Aegis Ashore Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IB missile, the Throttle Divert and Attitude Control System (TDACS) was successfully tested end to end. This test was the final system integration test prior to the upcoming first Aegis flight test of the SM-3 Block IB missile in June from the USS Lake Erie (CG 70) with its 4.0.1 processor at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai.


The TDACS consist of one motor with propellant mixture feeding ten rocket propulsion nozzles; four large nozzles on the front for divert and six smaller nozzles on the back for attitude. The propulsion nozzles are independently fueled and turn on and off in short bursts. This reduction in fuel consumption compared with a solid fuel continuous burn allows for the reduction of weight and increased capability to divert for evolving threats and for the projected future capabilities of the SM-3 Block IIA and IIB missiles. The TDACS directs the final few minutes of the kill vehicle’s flight positioning it to collide with the incoming ballistic missile warhead for successful intercept.


The TDACS is a significant technical achievement and modernization capability for the SM-3 missile family. The TDACS will replace the Solid Divert and Attitude Control System (SDACS) used on the SM-3 Block IA, which is ignited with a continuous burn throughout its final minutes of flight. In addition to the TDACS technical upgrade to the SM-3 Block IB a dual color infrared seeker will replace the single infrared seeker from the SM-3 Block IA, providing better discrimination of the target amongst debris and countermeasures. Due to the challenging schedule of the President’s Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA), if this final system integration test of the TDACS had failed the SDACS would have had to replace the TDACS and be inserted instead into the SM-3 Block IB missiles, limiting their projected capability.


This success is a significant milestone and achievement as the SM-3 Block IB missile is the cornerstone of the missile inventory of the promised European PAA which begins SM-3 Block IB deployment in 2015. The new and more capable SM-3 Block IB missiles are projected to be deployed on U.S. Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) capable 4.0.1 or higher ships on its fleets as well as the projected Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland. Furthermore the SM-3 Block IB missile is the technical path finder for further required modernization to increase efficiency and lower cost for the future SM-3 Block IIA and IIB missile development. The cost per SM-3 Block IB missile is projected currently at $15 million or less if better efficiencies and production can be provided.


Also in connection with the Presidents PAA schedule and its 2013 requirement for U.S. Aegis ships to be deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea was the first successful certification process of three U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Aegis Ships deployed off the Eastern United States this past Saturday, January 22nd. The ships successfully tracked and simulated an engagement of a ballistic missile target launched from NASA’s Wallop Island Flight Facility in Virginia. Having the test capability and certification on the East Coast relieves the ships being allocated for the protection of Europe and the Middle East, home ported in the Eastern United States from having to sail to Hawaii for the certification process. The three U.S. Aegis BMD Navy ships involved were USS Monterey (CG 61), USS Ramage (DDG 61) and USS Gonzalez (DDG 66).


We congratulate and are appreciative of all those involved with providing these key and not so visible technical milestones to further our United States Naval missile defense capability to defend and protect our nation, our troops and our allies.


After all is said and done, it is still Rocket Science and we are very fortunate as a nation to have highly skilled professionals to apply this science.

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