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Watch the Navy Blow Up a Fake Nuclear Weapon in Space

Raytheon’s second test of its new missile intercept vehicle was a success in an area of defense plagued by failure.

by Daniel Oberhaus
Nov 2 2018, 3:49pm

The US Missile Defense Agency test-launched its next generation missile interceptor—the Standard Missile-3 Block IIA—last week and successfully destroyed a fake nuclear weapon in space. The video released by the defense contractor Raytheon shows the missile being launched from the USS John Finn at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

The launch marks a success in an area of defense plagued by failure. Missile intercept systems such as the US Patriot missile and Israeli Arrow, for example, are notorious for their tendency to malfunction. Indeed, the earlier versions of Raytheon’s missile tested last week were roundly criticized for their low success rates, which some studies pegged at around 20 percent.

The Standard Missile-3 Block IIA that was tested last week also failed its first test last year after a sailor mistakenly designated the missile’s target as friendly, which prompted the missile to self-destruct. A second test in January also saw the missile fail to intercept its target, a mistake that cost the public $130 million, according to Defense News.

The SM-3 Block IIA was developed by the US and Japanese militaries and is built by the defense contractor Raytheon. The SM-3 missiles have been in development since the early 2000s, but the new Block IIA comes with a number of improvements over previous models, such as far more powerful rocket engines.

The missile is capable of reaching speeds of nearly 3 miles per second and has a range of over 1,300 miles. The SM-3 Block IIA missile doesn’t carry any warheads. Instead, it destroys targets by ramming into them and imparting a force equal to about 30 kilograms of TNT. This is equivalent to getting hit by a city bus at 600 miles per hour.

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According to the US Missile Defense Agency, the Block IIA missile was “designed to protect against a North Korean attack with fewer deployed ships.” There are also plans to deploy the missiles in Europe.

“Whether you fire SM-3 from sea or land, the result is the same; threat ballistic missiles are neutralized before they can ever harm anyone,” Mitch Stevison, the vice president of Raytheon Air and Missile Defense Systems, said in a statement. “It’s not easy, but we are constantly evolving this proven capability to provide the strongest possible shield of protection for the U.S. and its allies.”