Swiss-Army Knife of Missiles, SM-6, now has one more capability

The SM-6 missile can perform anti-air warfare, ballistic missile defense and anti-surface warfare missions. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)
The SM-6 missile can perform anti-air warfare, ballistic missile defense and anti-surface warfare missions. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)
The SM-6 missile is three missiles in one. It's the only weapon that can perform anti-air warfare, ballistic missile defense and anti-surface warfare missions.

The Missile Defense Agency, together with the U.S. Navy, plans to test an SM-6 missile against unpowered hypersonic boost-glide vehicles (BGV) later this year according to “The Drive”.

The Pentagon says that unspecified versions of the SM-6 have already demonstrated some degree of capability against these types of weapons, examples of which Russia and China have already begun putting to service. Russia’s Avangard and China’s DF-17 are such examples. China is also developing other weapons in this category, possibly including an air-launched type for its H-6N missile carrier aircraft. 

Last year AN/SPY6(V)1 detected and tracked the Hypersonic Glide Vehicle target in FEX-01. Last year’s tracking and simulated engagement was a kind of dry run for a planned FY23 flight test of SM-6 against a real hypersonic BGV.

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The Uss John Paul Jones Uses An Sm-6 Missile To Destroy A Supersonic High Altitude Target Drone In A Live Fire Test. (Photo: U.s. Navy)

A new variant of the SM-6, the Block IB, is already under development and will itself be able to reach hypersonic speeds.

Standard Missile-6 (SM-6)

The SM-6 is the latest variant in the Raytheon-built Standard Missile family.

The Standard Missile-6 (SM-6)—also known as the RIM-174—retains the Standard Missile airframe and propulsion elements and incorporates the advanced signal processing and guidance control capabilities of the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).

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SM-6 Missile Profile.

The SM-6 derives from the venerable SM-2 anti-aircraft missile but is souped up to take on low-flying cruise missiles. SM-2 always had some capability against surface ships, but this is the first time the more potent SM-6 has proven itself against such a target. The third sister, SM-3, is specifically designed to intercept ballistic missiles above the atmosphere — but the SM-6 has also proven versatile enough to shoot down ballistic missiles in some parts of their flight as well.

The cost to obtain and maintain the SM-6 is also comparatively lower, allowing more defensive interceptors to be employed in the battlespace, enhancing the U.S. Navy’s fleet air defense capability against numerous airborne threats.

The SM-6 missile is three missiles in one. It’s the only weapon that can perform anti-air warfare, ballistic missile defense, and anti-surface warfare missions. That means a great deal to Navy commanders who have limited space onboard their ships and can wield anti-air warfare, ballistic missile defense, and anti-surface warfare all packed within one missile cell.

an sm-6® missile fired from the guided missile destroyer uss john paul jones intercepts a medium-range ballistic missile target during a live fire test at the pacific missile range facility in kauai, hawaii. (photo: missile defense agency)
An Sm-6 Missile Fired From The Guided Missile Destroyer Uss John Paul Jones Intercepts A Medium-Range Ballistic Missile Target During A Live Fire Test At The Pacific Missile Range Facility In Kauai, Hawaii. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

Is the SM-6 missile really effective as an anti-ship missile?

Yes, with a dual-mode seeker, Cooperative Engagement Capability, flexible flight-envelope and significantly long range (compared to SAMs of its kind), it’s quite effective in anti-ship role. The lack of powerful warhead (64 kg) is compensated by kinetic energy (Mach 3.5+) and ability to recognize and hit critical spots.

SM-6’s effectiveness in anti-ship role is evident by its ability to sink USS Reuben James, a 4,100-ton surface vessel in January 2016 test. This means SM-6 can at least disable larger vessels, making them vulnerable to further attacks.

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Uss Reuben James (U.s. Navy Photo)

Of course, SM-6 may not be able to match the destructive power of some of the dedicated anti-ship missiles – it’s not meant to. However, what sets it apart is versatility. This is a SAM that can engage a range of aerial targets from subsonic/supersonic cruise missiles to ‘complex’ ballistic missiles (terminal) and of course, can be used against surface targets as well.

An Aegis Destroyer/Cruiser has limited number of VLS (96/122), therefore having a single weapon system capable of engaging such a wide range of threats significantly enhances the platform’s offensive and defensive ability. This also significantly helps in mission planning.

It has great range, is very fast and can aim for critical parts of the opposing ship. Its not likely to sink a ship with its small warhead, but you might use one to take out the radar and render the enemy ship mostly defenseless for slower but harder hitting follow up missiles like the Harpoon or LRASM.

A similar tactic is employed by Navy aircraft. They would carry both HARM and Harpoon missiles. Launched at the same time, the faster HARM missiles will streak ahead and target the enemy ships radar, leaving it defenseless against the slower sea skimming Harpoons

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A Sm-6 Missile Is Loaded Into A Specialized Container At The Raytheon Missiles &Amp; Defense Redstone Missile Integration Facility For Delivery To The U.s. Navy.

SM-6 Variants

SM-6 Block I The Block I has a Dual-Mode Seeker (Active and Semi-Active), a solid rocket booster, and dual thrust solid rocket motors. In 2013, the SM-6 Block I reached Initial Operating Capability when it was deployed aboard U.S. Aegis Destroyer the USS Kidd (DDG-100). During a test intercept in June 2014, the SM-6 Block I—fired from the USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53)—conducted the longest surface-to-air engagement in naval history. In 2015, the Block I carried out two successful intercepts, both of which involved cruise missile targets that were using electronic attacks against either the SM-6 missile or the Aegis shipboard radar. In February 2016, the two SM-6 Block I missiles successfully intercepted two cruise missile targets simultaneously.

uss john paul jones ddg 53 launches rim 174 june 2014 - naval post- naval news and information
The U.S. Navy Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) launches a RIM-174 Standard ERAM (Standard Missile-6, SM-6) during a live-fire test of the ship’s Aegis weapons system in the Pacific Ocean

SM-6 Block IA This SM-6 configuration is designed to address hardware and software improvements and advanced threats. In November 2014, the Block IA successfully intercepted a subsonic cruise missile over land, marking the second successful flight test of the SM-6 variant. This SM-6 variant was again successfully tested in June 2017 during a land-based test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The successful test advanced the missile to the sea-based testing phase, possibly paving the way for low-rate production by the end of the year.

SM-6 Dual I The Dual I is designed to counter ballistic missiles in the terminal phase of their trajectory as well as cruise missiles and other air breathing threats. Dual I upgrades include a more powerful processor that runs a more sophisticated targeting software that allows the SM-6 Dual I to identify, track, and intercept targets descending from the upper atmosphere at high velocity. During an intercept test in July 2015, the SM-6 Dual I demonstrated its dual-mission capability when it successfully intercepted a short-range ballistic missile target, in addition to two different kinds of cruise missile targets.

the sm-6® missile can perform anti-air warfare, ballistic missile defense and anti-surface warfare missions. (photo: missile defense agency)
The Sm-6 Missile Can Perform Anti-Air Warfare, Ballistic Missile Defense And Anti-Surface Warfare Missions. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)


Mass3,300 lb (1,500 kg)
Length21.5 ft (6.6 m)
Diameter13.5 in (0.34 m) for Block IA
21 in (0.53 m) for Block IB
Warhead140 lb (64 kg) blast fragmentation
radar and contact fuze
EngineTwo Stage: Solid rocket booster, solid rocket booster/sustainer
Wingspan61.8 in (1.57 m)
~130 nmi (150 mi; 240 km) (Block IA)
Flight ceiling>110,000 ft (34,000 m)
Maximum speedMach 3.5 (2,664.2 mph; 4,287.7 km/h; 1.2 km/s)
Inertial guidance, active radar homing and semi active radar homing

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