Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SM-6 and the Changing Calculus

An ongoing story in the Darwinian nature of war is the contest between the dominance of defense and offense. Especially acute on land - something 100-yrs on from WWI we are still talking about - it also applies at sea.

The last decade, much talk on the surface side of the house has been A2AD, ASBM, and a buzzword I like less every time I use it "distributed lethality," and the need to somehow find a way to get back in the anti-surface warfare fight at range.

Slowly and deliberately making it to the fleet, the SM-6 is showing all the signs of being the weapon we need now, and need in number.

As reported by Kris Osborne at The National Interest;
The Pentagon simultaneously fired two Standard Missile-6 weapons in rapid succession at a single ballistic missile target to asses new seeker technology and solidify the weapon's ability to ensure destruction of approaching enemy targets.

Using an emerging "active seeker" technology, two SM-6 missiles were able to simultaneously track and destroy a single target, greatly improving the probability of a target kill.
The SM-6 is unique in several respects; the weapon uses what is called an "active" seeker, meaning it can send a signal or electromagnetic ping forward in addition to receiving them. Electromagnetic signals, which travel at the speed of light, send a signal forward before analyzing the return signal to determine the shape, size, speed or configuration of an approaching threat. Since the speed of light is known, and the time of travel is able to be determined, a computer algorithm is able to calculate the exact distance of an object. Portions of this technology are built into the SM-6, using software upgrades.

An "active seeker" gives the missile to better attack maneuvering or moving targets at sea, because it does not need to rely upon a ship-based illuminator to bounce a signal off a target for a merely "passive" seeker to receive.

This is the technology which allows a ship commander to fire several SM-6 missiles in more rapid succession or closer to one another in the event that a target needs to be attacked with more than one missile.
Yes, in my head I'm counting VLS cells and wanting more, but nothing is perfect;
Compared with the SM-3, the ship-fired SM-6 interceptor is designed to track and destroy closer-in-threats such as a ballistic missile in the "terminal" phase of decent to its target.

The weapon has been established with an ability to knock out ballistic missiles approaching from the sky.
Of course, it is one thing to have mastery of defense and break the confidence your opponent may have in his offensive systems, but what about your offense? Here's the sexy part;
More recently, the weapon has been developed for a number of new "offensive" missions including surface attacks against enemy ships or defensive intercepts against anti-ship missiles closer to the surface.
Back to what we had with SM-1 but lost with SM-2. Good.  We also have the standard AAW ability;
The SM-6 has also been capable of anti-air defense, equipped with an ability to attack or destroy enemy helicopters, drones and other approaching threats. The weapon has now been established as defensive, offensive and capable of three distinct missions; they are surface warfare, anti-air warfare and ballistic missile defense.
More testing and then ... get 'ye to the fleet.

One note of caution. We should be a bit more humble. Good-man-Mike had me sucking my teeth a bit;
"You now have absolute assurance of hit no matter what the threat is doing. If the threat takes a turn and does something weird and the first missile is unable to sense it and engage it, the second missile will," Mike Campisi, SM-6 Senior Director, Raytheon, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Never say you have "absolute assurance" of anything at sea. Mother Ocean and Mars love to make a fool of you from your own over-confidence.

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