Raytheon Co. said it successfully tested an upgrade to its SM-3 ballistic missile interceptor to help pave the way for European navies to protect the region against long-range weapons from countries such as Iran.
The trial last week showed that a radar used by Dutch, German and Danish navies could provide target information to the interceptor, George Mavko, director of European missile defense at Raytheon, the world’s largest missile maker, said in an interview. “This is a first step to bring those ships into compatibility with the missile defense mission,” he said.
The U.S., as part of a wider effort to field a missile shield, is installing SM-3 interceptors on ships and has plans for land-based deployment of the weapon in Romania to give the capability to shoot down long-range missiles outside the atmosphere. The Netherlands is among European countries exploring how to join the U.S. in addressing such attacks.
“This is very prudent move by the Dutch,” Mike Elleman senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Bahrain, said in an interview. Sanctions have slowed Iran’s progress, which means a missile capable of threatening Paris or London is unlikely to be ready before 2016, he said.
The Dutch frigates the country would use for the protective role are equipped with a Thales SA radar system that is incompatible with the current SM-3 interceptor. The demonstration at the Den Helder military test range validated a datalink that allows the missile to receive information from the Thales sensor while retaining the ability to communicate with Aegis combat ships used by the U.S. Navy, Mavko said.
The trials were partly funded by the Dutch navy, he said, and are a precursor to detailed work to integrate the SM-3 on frigates. The Dutch government hasn’t committed to upgrading its ships, Mavko said, although planning continues to modify vessels due for a major retrofit starting in 2018.
The German F124 frigate and Danish ships have the same sensors as the Dutch model and involving those countries in the program would cut costs, he said. A common pool of missiles is also under consideration to save money, Mavko said.
“Many European allies already contribute to NATO’s missile defense system,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary general, said at the Munich Security Conference last month. “But I could see other possible contributions, for instance European navies upgrading their ships with missile defense radars and interceptors so they can deploy alongside U.S. vessels.”
To help entice European governments, Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon is promising financial returns to those countries. “We are beginning to have discussions with some of our European industrial partners about possible co-production of some components,” Mavko said. “The opportunities for industry in Europe are significant.”