As missile defense imperatives get stronger, and western defense budgets get weaker, one might expect both competition and cooperation to increase within this sector. That should be especially true around naval platforms, where multinational deployments are the normal operating mode. There are early signs that this is coming true.
In September 2011, Raytheon announced successful testing for a prototype dual-band datalink, allowing ships that use either Lockheed Martin’s SPY-1/ AEGIS system, or Thales Nederland’s APAR radars, to employ the full range of long-range Standard Missiles for air defense. That matters, because the SM-x family also includes a number of options with missile defense capabilities…
Widening the Market
The new dual band datalink is designed to be a drop-in replacement to the existing communications link currently used in the Standard Missile family airframe, which is focused on S-band. On the other hand, many modern naval radars like Thales’ APAR and Raytheon’s own SPY-3 use X-band frequencies. A dual S-band/X-band datalink seems minor, but the effects of adding and integrating it are not.
Raytheon’s SM-2 is currently its biggest seller by far within the Standard Missile family, and it equips a wide variety of American and international customers. SM-2 Block IIIB is the US Navy’s standard, with a dual semi-active radar guidance/ infrared seeker. SM-3 Block IIIA equips AEGIS ships operated by other navies, and can home on Interrupted Continuous Wave Illumination radar modes. It also works with the Thales APAR active array X-band radar carried by Dutch LCF and German F124 air defense frigates, which deploy it. A datalink swap within SM-2 missiles may broaden choices and ease integration.
The SM-6 adds a booster to give it longer range and last-stage ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities, and adds an active guidance seeker that lets it choose between semi-active guidance and independent flight. A datalink swap within SM-6 missiles lets Raytheon continue to offer its newest air defense missiles to new ships with X-band radars.
For longer-range missile defense, Raytheon’s SM-3 is currently the most tested naval offering in the world – and test results have been good. The missile uses inertial guidance, with transmitted updates from the ship’s combat system. It’s also the most widely sold BMD missile, with the most investment and a very attractive upgrade path that promises big improvements in range, seeker performance, and kill vehicle performance. That makes it very attractive, especially for navies that already use the compatible MK41 vertical launch system. But what if they don’t use the AEGIS combat system, or the SPY-1 radar, like American destroyers and cruisers?
The new Dual-Band Datalink currently offers its biggest benefits to this group of customers, by easing SM-6 and SM-3 integration. That keeps their ships current, ensuring that existing customers remain happy and continue to buy new defensive weapons.
Examples exist on both sides of the Atlantic. Dutch ships have participated in US missile tests, and in 2009, a joint U.S.-Netherlands study concluded that SM-3 missiles could be integrated with their air defense ships’ more advanced SMART-L/APAR platform, giving those ships independent missile defense capabilities. Germany (F124 Sachsen) and the Netherlands (De Zeven Provincien) have 7 frigates between them that carry the SMART-L volume search radar, the X-band APAR fire control radar, and the SM-x compatible MK41 vertical launch system. Denmark will add 3 more APAR-equipped Iver Huitfeldt frigates to this group by 2013.
Within the US Navy itself, its 3 new DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class “destroyers” will offer battlecruiser size, and a number of advanced features that include a Raytheon-built combat system and AN/SPY-3 active-array X-band radar. Ballistic Missile Defense isn’t currently envisioned as a Zumwalt mission, but the datalink would make it easier to add later. Meanwhile, it will allow the Zumwalts to use existing USN stocks of SM-6 or even SM-2 missiles, with only minor modifications required. The alternative would be a separate missile pool for this single small class.
From a business standpoint, these gains would justify the program all by itself.
With that said, the Dual-Band Datalink could even offer benefits to some nations who already use the SPY-1/AEGIS combination on their ships.
Spain’s F100 frigates already operate SPY-1D equipped AEGIS frigates, and Spanish ships upgraded to AEGIS BMD 3.0 have served in a tracking role during US Navy ABM tests. Australia’s 3 forthcoming Hobart Class ships will be F100 derivatives. Spain’s ships currently carry Raytheon’s SM-2 missiles, and the Hobart Class is also expected to carry SM-6 missiles after 2020. Both ship types are eligible for the full BMD upgrade path, if they wish to add SM-3s.
At NATO’s 2010 Lisbon Summit, NATO heads of State agreed that territorial defense of Europe from ballistic missile attack was a key priority for NATO. NATO’s ALTBMD command and control system is slowly coming together, as are American plans to deploy SM-3 both at sea and on land. The more Raytheon expands the list of eligible BMD-capable ship types, the more attractive it becomes for NATO to consider taking the next step, toward a NATO pool of interceptors that participating nations could share and draw from. The new datalink’s APAR tests would expand the list of eligible countries to include Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.
Outside, Looking In
To evaluate the Dual-Band datalink’s full potential, it’s necessary to explain where that potential is unrealized.
Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen Class frigates are also AEGIS ships, but their smaller SPY-1F radars probably aren’t upgradeable for missile defense roles. SM-6 upgrades won’t need the datalink, and there’s no point in joining any SM-3 missile pool.
Australia, Japan, and KDX-III all field or will field AEGIS/SPY-1 destroyers of their own, and Japan has already begun full BMD upgrades for its ships. For various reasons, however, none of these countries will be interested in pooling SM-3 or SM-6 missiles with others.
There is some potential in the UK. The Royal Navy uses the SAMPSON S-band active array radar on its new Type 45 air defense destroyers, and has expressed interest in adding SM-3 missiles to its Type 45 destroyers. Its DCNS Sylver A50 launchers aren’t big enough to handle SM-3s, but the Royal Navy is looking into dropping more vertical launch cells into their Type 45s: either the SM-3 compatible Mk41 VLS, or the Sylver A70 VLS with possible SM-3 adapters.
Anything that makes it easier to make added SM-3s combat-capable would improve the missile’s competitive profile in Britain. As it has done for the Dutch with APAR, however, Raytheon would first need to begin with an analysis of how its Dual-Band Datalink might work with the British SAMPSON.
March 11/13: Datalink. Raytheon announces that they’ve moved to a more advanced testing stage with their company-funded dual-band datalink, linking SM-3 missiles to an X-band Thales Nederland Advanced Phased Array Radar (APAR) at a shore-based Dutch facility.
Dutch LCF ships have already participated in American missile defense tests as trackers, but they’d need this datalink if they wanted the full radar communication that’s needed to launch their own interceptors.
July 18/12: Netherlands. Thales announces that the Netherlands is upgrading the SMART-L radars on their 4 LCF/ De Zeven Provincien Class frigates to add the Extended Long Range module, which offers longer-range detection and exo-atmospheric tracking for ballistic missile defense.
Sept 13/11: Raytheon announces that they’ve completed design and testing of a prototype dual-band (S-band and X-band) datalink that will enable interoperability between the Standard Missile family of interceptors and a wider variety of radars and ships.
2009: A joint U.S.-Netherlands study concluded that SM-3 missiles could be integrated with the De Zeven Provincien Class air defense ships’ advanced SMART-L/APAR radars, giving those ships independent missile defense capabilities.