Repeating the same mission of a failed July 14 test last year, the Navy conducted a successful flight test of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) January 25, achieving separation between the missile's second- and third-stage boosters for the first time. (See ACT, September 2000.) Part of the Navy Theater Wide ballistic missile defense program, the SM-3 is intended to boost a kinetic (non-explosive) warhead into space from U.S. Aegis-equipped naval ships to destroy an incoming medium- or long-range theater ballistic missile warhead by colliding with it. The test marked only the third flight of the SM-3.
Delayed by more than a month because of software problems in the SM-3 navigational system, the most recent test demonstrated the missile's "airframe stability and control" up through the warhead's separation from the booster, according to a January 26 Pentagon press release. Although the SM-3 carried a kinetic warhead and the test involved a target, no intercept was planned or attempted; the warhead's mechanism enabling it to maneuver toward a target was deliberatively left inactive. A Navy spokesman explained that once the warhead separated from the third stage the "mission objectives were complete" and the kinetic warhead simply "tumbled after separation."During the next flight test, planned for this summer, the kinetic warhead will be fully functional and is expected to acquire, track, and maneuver toward a mock warhead, though an intercept is not a test objective. The first official intercept attempt will not be until this fall. The Navy does not yet have an exact date for initial deployment of the system, but that objective is expected to be determined later this year.