RIM-161 Standard SM-3

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A U.S. naval anti-ballistic missile (ABM) with demonstrated capability against satellites. It is fired from the vertical launch system of ships equipped with the AEGIS battle management system and AN/SPY-2 ABM radar. As opposed to having the high-explosive warhead of SM-2 anti-air missiles, it kills an incoming warhead or orbiting satellite by colliding directly with the target, a collision with sufficient kinetic energy to vaporize the target and the interceptor.

The missile is the actual kill mechanism of the Navy theater ballistic missile defense (TBMD) system. It is deployed aboard 3 Ticonderoga-class cruisers and 15 Burke-class destroyers. It is being sold, along with the associated radars and computers, to Japan for use aboard Kongo-class destroyers, which are a Japanese-manufactured version of the Burke class.

It is considered a midcourse interceptor, although it would engage in the ascent and descent subphases of the midcourse part of the trajectory; there may be some boost phase and some terminal phase capability. The Missile Defense Agency has said the SM-2 has terminal defense capability against short range ballistic missiles (SRBM).

Operational use

SM-3 equipped U.S. ships were deployed in the Sea of Japan during North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Later, in December 2007, An SM-3 was fired successfully from the Japanese destroyer JDS Kongo, hitting its target. Japan sees the system as a deterrent against North Korea and China. While Japan and South Korea have license-built Burke-class destroyers with the AEGIS battle management system, South Korea has not yet bought the SM-3. It has been argued that regional BMD is a natural trilateral relationship among Japan, South Korea, and the US.[1]

In February 2008, a SM-3 fired from USS Lake Erie (CG-70) successfully destroyed a U.S. reconnaissance satellite whose orbit was decaying. The U.S. explanation was that if the satellite had entered and not burned up, as intended, during atmospheric reentry, toxic station-keeping propellants on the satellite could be a hazard to people on Earth. It may have been a response to a Chinese test of an anti-satellite system.

General characteristics

Block IA

  • Contractor: Raytheon
  • Range = 300 mi/480km [2]
  • Speed: 9600 km/h (6000 mph)[3]
  • Ceiling: greater than 100 mi/160 km
  • Length (incl. booster) 6.55 m (21 ft 6 in)
  • Finspan 1.57 m (61.8 in)
  • Diameter 0.34 m (13.5 in)

Block IIA

  • Diameter 0.53 m (21 in)

Relationship to other BMD sensors

While the SM-3 proper is reported not to be fast enough to kill an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) reentry vehicle, the associated electronics (SM-3 upgrades to AEGIS) are speed of light. In somewhat confusing terminology, the national-level ground-based midcourse defense system, using a different interceptor than the SM-3, does have some internetworked modes called "launch on SM-3" and "engage on SM-3". [4] The AN/SPY-2 radar interoperates with overall ballistic missile defense control, just as land-based sensors can talk to AEGIS.

Possible variants

Israel expressed interest about a land-based SM-3, which would complement its Arrow-2 and PAC-3. One rationale is the SM-3 gives would give them national coverage, the medium-range Arrow-2 area coverage at 50-60 miles, and PAC-3 for point defense. [2] They have also acquired the AN/TPY-2 radar and is considering the THAAD missile, which would operate in the range between SM-3 and Arrow.

Japan has also acquired the AN/TPY-2 radar and is considering the THAAD missile, although if it deployed a multilayered system, the SM-3 would remain at sea. AN/TPY-2 and AN/SPY-2 interoperate as part of a BMD system.


  1. Michael Auslin, Christopher Griffin (March 2008), Time for Trilateralism?, American Enterprise Institute
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Land-Based SM-3s for Israel?", Defense Industry Daily, 17 Jul 2008
  3. Parsch, Raytheon RIM-161 Standard SM-3, Designationsystems.com
  4. Teal Group Corporation (July 2007), "BMD X-Band Radars & BMD C4I", Military Electronics Briefing