November 24, 2020 – As USS John Finn (DDG 113) launched the SM-3 Block IIA Intercept Test near Hawaii Nov. 16, Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division engineers worked quietly behind the scenes.
Finn, an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System-equipped destroyer, successfully intercepted and destroyed an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) target during a flight test demonstration where the target represented a hostile threat in a defense-of-Hawaii scenario. During the test, NSWC Corona analyzed critical data from the Aegis Weapon System and the SM-3 and led the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Collaborative Analysis Team to provide the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) with assessments of weapon system performance.
“We developed and implemented a distributed assessment methodology that allowed analysts to provide distance support to Finn from their home sites, instead of from the ship or nearby vessels,” said Anthony Jones, BMD technical lead for NSWC Corona. “We were able to analyze and assess command and control systems, weapons control systems and the ship’s sensors from Corona to ensure they were performing as expected. If for some reason they weren’t working right, we would have provided the assessments to the Navy so they could fix the problems and execute.”
In addition to the assessments, NSWC Corona collected, processed and distributed weapon system and missile telemetry data to the MDA technical community by using the Ku Band satellite communications system in conjunction with the enhanced Portable Advanced Telemetry Acquisition System (ePATAS), both developed by NSWC Corona engineers. While each state-of-the-art system has been operational for some time, the ICBM test was the first time ePATAS-collected missile telemetry data was streamed in real time via Ku satellite communication to the Missile Defense Integration and Operation Center, where it provided unparalleled situational awareness to the event execution team. As a result, experts around the country could watch the live feed and run analytics tools as the missile soared.
“NSWC Corona designed the Ku Band system many years ago, and we take it aboard ship to provide communications pathways between the ship and our engineers supporting the event,” said Jones. “We bring our own system so we don’t impact the ship’s organic communication systems. ePATAS collects and stores missile telemetry data but doesn’t transmit, so when we connect it with Ku, now we can collect and transmit. We integrated both together and streamed into the MDA range support system.”
In the future, the combined ePATAS/Ku streaming will allow shipboard-collected telemetry to be integrated into test range support systems, which will extend test range capabilities beyond line of sight. As ballistic missile ranges push ships further and further away from test ranges, the Corona-engineered capability helps save money by reducing the level of necessary auxiliary range support in the form of equipment, vessels and personnel. That could translate into millions of dollars in savings for each test moving forward.
“It gives the team members in various locations access to the live missile telemetry data, which shows us what the missile is doing while it flies in space,” said Jones. “We can view and analyze position, speed, velocity, and even what the missile sees through its electronic eye.”
The team set up secure communications to transfer data and provide collaboration among engineers to analyze weapon system data and provide the Navy and MDA with an assessment of performance. During and following the test, NSWC Corona worked with agencies around the country to lead discussion, collect input and collate the information into a cohesive report to be provided to Navy leadership.
“Any time you can increase a combatant commander’s situational awareness as they execute an important evolution, you’re bringing value,” said Commanding Officer Capt. Khary Hembree-Bey. “It’s a much more comprehensive look at performance and it is work we take pride in.”
“What we’re doing is allowing the Navy to collect all of the required data that helps us truly understand how the test turned out,” said Jones. “Obviously, if the missile hits the target, you know it worked. But without collecting the data required to assess how well the missile performed, you can’t understand the ‘Why’ – why it performed the way it did. By bringing this auxiliary equipment on board, you can understand not just what happened, but why it happened.”
According to the MDA, Flight Test Aegis Weapon System 44 (FTM-44) was the sixth flight test of an Aegis BMD-equipped vessel using the SM-3 Block IIA guided missile. It also satisfied a Congressional mandate to evaluate the missile’s ability to defeat an ICBM threat by the end of 2020.
“Now that the test is done, we will continue to study the data.” said Jones. “Part of that is continuing to make adjustments to make it even better for future iterations.”
NSWC Corona Division has served as the Navy’s independent assessment agent since 1964. With more than 3,800 engineers, scientists and support personnel, Sailors and contractors, NSWC Corona is located in Norco, California, with detachments in Fallbrook and Seal Beach and personnel in 14 additional locations. The Naval Sea Systems Command field activity provides transparency for warfighting readiness through data analytics and assessment, engineers the fleet’s Live Virtual Constructive training environment, and assures the accuracy of measurements as the engineering advisor for the Navy and Marine Corps metrology and calibration programs.