The U.S. Navy has begun deploying a new ship-defense missile made by Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems, the company announced Monday.
Raytheon’s Standard Missile-6 reached “initial operational capability,” a milestone that essentially marks the first time a weapon system is considered minimally ready for use.
An undisclosed number of SM-6s were loaded aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Kidd in San Diego last week, the Navy said.
The latest in the Standard Missile series of ship-defense weapons, the SM-6 is also known as the RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile. It offers extended range, active and semiactive radar guidance modes and advanced fuzing technology.
Capt. Mike Ladner, manager for major surface-ship weapons programs, said in a Navy news release that the SM-6 reached deployment readiness on schedule.
However, the Government Accountability Office noted in a March report that the program schedule had been extended to allow for supplemental testing.
Raytheon says the SM-6 provides long-range protection against fixed-wing aircraft,
helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles. The interceptor combines the airframe and propulsion of earlier Standard Missiles with the advanced signal-processing and guidance-control capabilities of Raytheon’s Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, the company said.
“This is a monumental moment for the SM-6 program and signifies a new era of fleet defense for our naval war fighters,” Taylor Lawrence, president of Raytheon Missile Systems, said in prepared remarks. “The SM-6 significantly improves the sailor’s ability to strike at various targets at extended range.”
While the range of the SM-6 remains classified, Raytheon and the Navy have said it is substantially longer than its predecessor, the SM-2, which has a range of about 100 miles. A prior developmental version the SM-2 Block IV Extended Range had a reported range of up to 230 miles, compared with about 100 miles for earlier SM-2 variants.
But not everybody is convinced the SM-6 is ready for action. The GAO in its report to Congress in March concluded that the SM-6’s reliability has not been sufficiently demonstrated, citing several test failures and the lack of testing for certain capabilities until after production began.
The Navy disagreed, citing supplemental testing completed in November 2012, the GAO reported. But the GAO also noted that a Pentagon watchdog agency reported in January that the supplemental testing might not be enough to verify problems were corrected.
Though the SM-6 is designed to defeat a variety of threats, for both ship and area defense, it is seen as a vital shield against an evolving threat of highly agile, supersonic cruise missiles.
Raytheon says it has delivered more than 50 SM-6 interceptors to the Navy under low-rate production contracts. In September, Raytheon won a contract for $243 million to build 89 new SM-6 interceptors, starting up full-rate production.
Overall, the Pentagon plans to spend more than $6 billion on SM-6 development and procurement of 1,200 missiles by 2019.
Final assembly of the SM-6 is performed at Raytheon Missile Systems’ year-old, $75 million plant at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Ala. Development and seeker production are performed in Tucson, where the Standard Missile program is also managed.