fm-4_logo_final1As early as November 2002, the Navy demonstrated an ascent-phase intercept capability using an SM-3 launched from USS Lake Erie (CG 70) to intercept a SCUD-like target vehicle launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, as MDA test FM-4, codenamed Stellar Viper.  The test objectives and knowledge points gained were set forth in the contemporary press release from MDA:

“Flight Mission-4 (FM-4) involved the firing of a developmental Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) from the Aegis ballistic missile defense cruiser USS LAKE ERIE (CG-70) to fm47engage a ballistic missile target launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

The target was launched at 2:30 p.m. (HST)/ 7:30 p.m. (EST). The USS LAKE ERIE equipped with Aegis BMD computer programs and equipment, developed a fire control solution without any external sensor inputs. Within two minutes after target launch, USS LAKE ERIEÕs Aegis Weapon System fired the SM-3 guided missile. Approximately two minutes later, the missile’s Kinetic Warhead acquired, tracked, and diverted into the target, demonstrating the Aegis BMD system’s capability to engage the ballistic missile target in the ascent phase. This was the third consecutive target intercept flight, demonstrating Aegis BMD system robustness.

The primary objective of this test was to demonstrate the Aegis BMD system capability to intercept the ballistic missile target in the ascent phase of flight. Extensive engineering evaluation data was collected for analyses in preparation for future flight tests. Project officials will evaluate the data and incorporate changes as required.

FM-4 marks the beginning of a six flight test series to develop an emergency deployment sea based ballistic missile defense against short to medium range ballistic missiles. FM-4 is the first developmental flight test against more complex and stressing ballistic missile engagement scenarios.”

The altitude of the SM-3 at impact was 93 miles.  Additionally, “aimpoint shift” was demonstrated on this test, wherein the SM-3 shifts its aimpoint in flight to ensure the probability that the ballistic missile’s ordnance, or warhead, is destroyed.  This is important in that one of the major criticisms of the Patriot in the ABM mode in the first Gulf War was that it tended to go after the largest target which, in the case of the SCUD on re-entry break-up, was the fuel tank vice warhead.