US showcases how the M70 warship launch platform fires the PAC-3

The U.S. military, working with Lockheed Martin, recently tested a new feature by firing an Army air-defense missile from a Navy launch tube on land. This test hints at the possibility for U.S. military ships to carry the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 [PAC-3] missiles, funded by a classified Defense Department project. 

US 'loads' the Patriot's PAC-3 MSЕ into its fleet of warships
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

In a flight test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the most advanced guided-missile interceptor in the Patriot inventory, the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement, was launched from an MK-70 containerized platform. It successfully tracked and hit a cruise missile target, as reported by a Lockheed Martin press release on May 20. 

“This successful test shows Lockheed Martin’s commitment to developing technologies to keep our forces ahead of threats,” said Tom Copeman, Lockheed Martin’s Vice President of Strategy and Naval Programs. “These systems can offer a proven, integrated air and missile defense capability with increasing capacity to help protect the U.S. from advanced threats.”

Lockheed is funding a project to adapt the PAC-3 MSE missile for Navy ships. They plan to test a new sensor that will work with the Aegis Weapon System’s SPY radar. The company suggests the PAC-3 MSE as a solution to counter complex threats like hypersonic and cruise missiles—a gap the Navy identified last year. The Navy’s fiscal year 2024 budget includes a new research project called “Compact Agile Interceptors.”

“The Navy faces significant challenges in countering complex threats like hypersonic missiles, cruise missiles, and surface vessels,” reads the service’s FY-24 budget request. “To address this, the Compact Agile Interceptor [innovative naval prototype] will use small missiles for better packing. Advanced technology, lightweight at mere ounces, will replace heavier missiles, enabling faster interceptors.” 

This new project explores innovative methods to defend against cutting-edge threats. These include solid-fuel ramjets, highly loaded grain propellants, and solid rocket active throttling. Lockheed officials propose the PAC-3 MSE as a quick fix to protect surface combatants against current threats.

The PAC-3 SME [Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement] is an advanced version of the Patriot missile defense system. It is designed to intercept and destroy incoming threats such as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and advanced aircraft. The PAC-3 SME is known for its enhanced performance and greater range compared to its predecessors.

In terms of dimensions, the PAC-3 SME missile is approximately 17 feet [5.2 meters] in length and 10 inches (0.25 meters) in diameter. It weighs around 700 pounds [318 kilograms]. These dimensions allow the missile to be compact enough for deployment in various environments while maintaining a high level of effectiveness.

The technical characteristics of the PAC-3 SME include a solid-fuel rocket motor, an advanced guidance system, and a high-explosive fragmentation warhead. The missile is equipped with a hit-to-kill capability, meaning it destroys its target through direct impact rather than relying solely on explosive force. This increases the likelihood of successfully neutralizing incoming threats.

The drive system of the PAC-3 SME consists of a solid-propellant rocket motor that provides the necessary thrust for the missile to reach its target. This type of propulsion system is reliable and allows for rapid acceleration, which is crucial for intercepting fast-moving threats.

The PAC-3 SME is composed of several key components and equipment, including the missile itself, the launcher, the radar system, and the fire control system. The launcher is responsible for storing and launching the missiles, while the radar system detects and tracks incoming threats. The fire control system processes this information and guides the missile to its target.

The operation of the PAC-3 SME involves several steps. First, the radar system detects an incoming threat and tracks its trajectory. This information is relayed to the fire control system, which calculates the optimal interception point. The launcher then fires the missile, which is guided by the radar and fire control systems to intercept and destroy the target. The hit-to-kill capability ensures that the missile effectively neutralizes the threat through direct impact.

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