Sinking enemy warships: the US Navy’s fiery new weapon

(From the National Interest)

By Dave Majumdar

The United States Navy’s fleet of Aegis cruisers and destroyers are getting a massive boost in lethality. For years, many believed that the America’s mighty surface combatants were on track to be outgunned by their Russian and Chinese counterparts—however a newly unveiled modification to the Raytheon Standard SM-6 changes of all of that.

Raytheon SM-6 missile launch from US Navy ship.

Raytheon SM-6 missile launch from US Navy ship.

“I’m announcing today new capability for the SM-6. We’re modifying the SM-6, so that in addition to missile defense, it can also target enemy ships at sea at very long ranges,” U.S. defense secretary Ashton Carter said at Naval Base San Diego, California, on February 3.

“This is a new anti-ship mode. It makes the SM-6 basically a twofer. Can shoot down airborne threats,” Carter said. “And now you can attack and destroy a ship at long range with the very same missile.”

While the long-range SM-6 was known to have an extremely potent air and missile defense capability, this is the first time the Pentagon has acknowledged that the weapon has an anti-surface mode. The older, shorter-range version of the Standard—the SM-2—also had an anti-surface mode, though it was not exactly far reaching.

The SM-6—which incorporates an active radar seeker and networking—was designed to engage targets beyond a ship’s radar horizon. Using the Naval Integrated Fire Control battle network, an Aegis warship could engage over-the-horizon targets—including aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles—by using targeting data from a Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.

The physical radar horizon for a S-band radar like that of the Aegis is about 250 nautical miles for a target flying at about 30,000 feet. For target flying at lower altitudes, the radar detection range would be shorter—which is where the E-2D comes in. While the range for the SM-6 is classified, the weapons range could potentially be greater than 250 nautical miles.

Because the E-2D has the capability to track air and surface targets, the SM-6 would effectively allow U.S. warships to engage enemy surface combatants or even swarming boats over-the-horizon with a Mach 3.5+ missile. While the SM-6’s warhead was designed to kill aircraft—and as such is relatively tiny—the fact that it also has ballistic missile defense capability suggests it has a hit-to-kill capability. Read more

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