The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) is the sea-based component of the US Ballistic Missile Defence System. Credit: MDA and US Navy.
The Aegis BMD can track and intercept short and medium-range ballistic missiles. Credit: MDA.
The SM-3 mid-course interceptor missile is launched from the MK 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) aboard the warships. Credit: US Navy.
The Aegis BMD is deployed in 24 warships of the US Navy. Credit: US Navy.
A Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) is launched from the Japanese Ship (JS) Myoko (DDG 175). Credit: MDA.
The SM-2 missiles launched from the USS Lake Erie (CG 70) during a Missile Defence Agency flight test. Credit: US Navy.

Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system was developed by the Missile Defence Agency (MDA) in cooperation with the US Navy. It is the sea-based element of the US BMD system.

The Aegis BMD provides warships with the capability of intercepting and destroying short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

Aegis BMD is the first component of the BMD system to receive formal certification for deployment. It is also the MDA’s first missile defence system acquired by a military ally (Japan).

The US Navy’s vessels currently equipped with Aegis BMDs are Ticonderoga (CG-47) Class cruisers and also Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) Class destroyers.

Variants of the Aegis system

The variations of the Aegis BMD system currently in service are the 3.6.1 version and the 4.0.1 version. The MDA and the US Navy plan to deploy more advanced versions, such as the 5.0, 5.1 and 5.2, in the future.

The improved versions will be equipped with advanced processors and software, as well as upgraded variants of the SM-3 interceptor missile.

Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence system development

The Aegis BMD system was initially fielded in 2004 to deliver long-range surveillance and track (LRS&T) capabilities for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The system obtained the engagement capability in 2005 and terminal capability in 2006. The Aegis BMD successfully destroyed a non-working satellite during Operation Burnt Frost in February 2008.

The European phased adaptive approach (PAA) for missile defence in Europe was announced by the Obama administration in September 2009. The PAA is intended to protect European nations from ballistic missile threats. Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1bn contract by the MDA to continue the development of the Aegis BMD system in October 2009.

Lockheed Martin received a $100m worth, five-year contract from the US Navy to provide combat system engineering services for all Aegis-equipped ships in March 2013.

Aegis BMD demonstrated the European PAA phase one capability by intercepting an IRBM in 2011. It was the first Aegis BMD engagement of an IRBM using launch-on-remote capability. The USS Monterey (CG-61) was the first vessel to be deployed for Europe under European PAA phase one plan. The command and control node was installed in Germany and the forward-based radar was placed in Turkey to support the mission.

Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) upgrades are being integrated into Aegis BMD ships and land-based facilities to counter evolving ballistic missile threats. Phase two development will deliver more advanced SM-3 Block IB missiles by 2015.

The missiles will be deployed at sea and on land. The land-based component of the BMD system is called the Aegis Ashore. The preliminary design review for the Aegis Ashore was concluded in August 2011.

The Aegis Ashore sites will be built at the Pacific Missile Range Facility and Romania, to deploy SM-3 IB interceptors. The land-based sites will protect Nato nations against the hostile ballistic missiles launched from the Middle East.

Phase three will involve the development of SM-3 Block IIA by 2018, for the deployment from Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland, and Aegis BMD ships. Phase four will deliver SM-3 Block IIB missiles by 2020 to defend IRBMs and ICBMs.

Successful Aegis BMD system flight tests

Aegis BMD successfully completed the first intercept test in January 2002 and has to date achieved 23 successful intercepts from 28 attempts. The system demonstrated 20 successful exo-atmospheric intercepts in 25 attempts using the SM-3 missile.

These firings also included three successful intercepts in four attempts by the Aegis ships of the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF). The system also performed three successful endo-atmospheric intercepts in three attempts, using the SM-2 Block IV missile.

The Lockheed Martin team conducted an operational test of a second generation Aegis combat system with two SM-3 Block IB guided missiles and a SPY-1 naval phased array radar in September 2013. The combat system successfully engaged a short-range ballistic missile target from the USS Lake Erie cruiser during the test.

The first live-fire test of the Aegis Ashore combat system was conducted in May 2014.

The Aegis BMD system completed a series of qualification trials aboard KDX-III Seoae Ryu Sungryong destroyer of Republic of Korea in June 2014.

The Aegis BMD system performed its first live-fire test with its new Baseline 9 capability from the USS Chancellorsville cruiser in April 2013. The Baseline 9 upgrade, which began in April 2012, includes addition of commercial-off-the-shelf and open architecture technologies to the missile system and allows it to engage multiple threats.

Lockheed Martin and US Navy demonstrated long-range and over-the-horizon engagement capabilities of the Aegis system with Baseline 9 capability during a series of three tests conducted in July 2014. The combat system also performed two flight tests in Baseline 9 configuration in November 2014.

Standard Missile-3 and SM-2 Block IV interceptors

The Aegis BMD uses the Standard Missile-3 mid-course interceptors and the Standard Missile-2 Block IV (SM-2 Block IV) terminal-phase interceptors developed by Raytheon.

The SM-3 is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles above the atmosphere during the midcourse phase of a hostile ballistic missile’s flight. The missile is launched from the MK 41 vertical launching system (VLS) of the warships. It receives in-flight target updates from the ship.

The kinetic warhead (KW) is designed to destroy a ballistic missile’s warhead with more than 130 megajoules of kinetic energy. The existing SM-3 Block IA version will be upgraded to SM-3 Block IB, SM-3 Block IIA and SM-3 Block IIB to counter future ballistic missile threats.

The SM-2 Block IV can engage the ballistic missiles within the atmosphere in the terminal phase of a missile’s trajectory. The missile carries a blast fragmentation warhead. The SM-2 Block IV will be replaced with a new extended range SM-6 interceptor.

Features of the US MDA’s system

Aegis integrates Aegis combat system, SM-3 missiles and command, control and communication systems of the US Navy and joint forces.

The Aegis BMD configured ships can detect and track ballistic missiles of all ranges and transfer target detection information to the ground-based midcourse defence interceptors in Alaska and California.

The LRS&T capability shares tracking data to cue other components of the BMDS including PAC-3, terminal high altitude area defence (THAAD) and medium extended air defence system (MEADS).

Vessels with Aegis BMD system capabilities

The Aegis BMD is deployed in five cruisers and 19 destroyers of the US Navy, as of May 2012. The Pacific Fleet and Atlantic Fleet operate 16 and eight Aegis ships respectively. The Aegis BMD capable ships in the US Navy are expected to increase in number up to 36 by 2018.

The Japan Maritime Self Defence Force operates four Aegis BMD capable ships, known as Kongo Class guided-missile destroyers.