In rare footage released by the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on February 8, a US Air Force (USAF) C-17A Globemaster III airlifter was seen participating in an anti-ballistic missile test as part of the more extensive Stellar Sisyphus missile defense test in Hawaii.
Stellar Sisyphus, also known as Flight Test Other-23 (FTX-23), was backed by the US Air Force, Navy, and Missile Defense Agency (MDA).
Besides the C-17 airlifter, the test also involved participation from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex, the Advanced Radar Development Evaluation Laboratory, and the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS McCampbell (DDG 85) and USS Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125).
The MDA said that the Stellar Sisyphus comprised a two-part developmental test of sensor tracking and communications connection capabilities, both successful.
According to the MDA, the first phase of the multisensor test, which was carried out off the shore of the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, effectively demonstrated the target missile’s tracking and discrimination.
In this phase, the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft launched a mock mid-range ballistic missile from its cargo hold. The second phase of this test involved shooting a 3 Block IIA Standard Missile (SM-3 Blk IIA), which intercepted the same medium-range ballistic missile target.
According to the MDA, this test admittedly verified additional functionality of the SM-3 Blk IIA. This stellar test was conducted harmoniously, and the MDA released the rare footage.
The MDA said in a statement, “Conducted off the coast of the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, the first part of this multi-sensor test successfully demonstrated that the Aegis Weapon System tracked and discriminated a complex target scene of a Medium Range Ballistic Missile target with countermeasures.”
“The second part of this test included firing a Standard Missile – 3 Block IIA (SM-3 Blk IIA), which intercepted the same Medium Range Ballistic Missile target, verifying additional functionality of the SM-3 Blk IIA.”
A Not-So-Rare Testing, Yet A Rare Footage
The footage begins with the launch of a mock medium-range ballistic missile (MBRM) with unspecified countermeasures installed for the test.
Any ballistic missile with a maximum range of 620 to 1,860 miles (1,000 kilometers to 3,000 kilometers) is classified as an MRBM.
As the video progresses, a pair of parachutes can be seen pulling the mock MRBM out of the back of the C-17 while it is mounted on a unique pallet.
The missile, still tied to its pallet, uses its three giant parachutes to help it land its nose up in a vertical posture. Following this, the missile is seen separating from the pallet while its rocket motor ignites.
The video also shows the actual intercept of the surrogate MRBM as well as various views of the USS McCampbell launching an anti-missile interceptor, the Standard Missile 3 Block IIA (SM-3 Block IIA), one of the primary weapons connected to the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system.
I love US ABM exercises because some involve throwing a ballistic missile out the back of a C-17, with said ballistic missile launching while floating down under a parachute, and then having a US Navy destroyer shoot another missile at it.
(Incredibly rare new footage) pic.twitter.com/RLWw5uG9ku
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) February 9, 2024
As soon as the video was published, it went viral on social media, with OSINT analysts and military watchers taken by a pleasant surprise because the missile test was very complex, and it is unusual for the United States to showcase these capabilities to the public.
Although the C-17 is primarily a high-wing, four-engine heavy transport aircraft, it has been used to launch missiles several times.
For instance, a C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 418th Flight Test Squadron air-launched a ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean in 2017, supporting a missile interception test by a THAAD battery.
Later, during a significant demonstration exercise in 2020, USAF C-17A Globemaster III transport aircraft imitated the launch of several AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile cruise missiles using a palletized system.
These tests have often been attributed to the urgent need to transport military aircraft as “arsenal planes” in a high-end conflict.
One significant component of the recently conducted test is the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System, whose primary purpose is to intercept ballistic missile threats during the middle of their flight path. However, the recently concluded test was far more complex than routine testing.
The Aegis BMD force of today consists of stationary Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland, along with a handful of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and a decreasing number of Ticonderoga class cruisers.
The BMD is considered to be the US Navy’s best bet against the ballistic missile threat posed by adversaries, including Russia, China, and North Korea.
In the recent test in Hawaii, the SM-3 Block IIA missile was used to destroy the dummy ballistic missile launched from the C-17 airlifter.
A vital component of the US missile defense policy is the integration of the SM-3 Block IIA missile, which is especially important for protecting the US mainland from potential future attacks. This missile is an essential part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.
The Raytheon-built SM-3 Block IIA stands out thanks to a significantly larger kinetic warhead and a more powerful rocket motor than its predecessors.
These improvements enable the missile to reach higher speeds, which is helpful in effectively addressing threats posed by intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
This improvement is primarily due to the missile’s upgraded second stage, which increases thrust and range.
In a release, Lt. Gen. Heath Collins, MDA Director, said, “We are working closely with the Navy to provide new and enhanced capabilities against a constantly evolving threat. Today’s successful test was a key milestone in giving our Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense ships increased sensing and tracking tools to combat threat proliferation.
“This was an incredible accomplishment, and I commend the US Navy Sailors, the MDA team, and our industry partners.”
With the primary goal of gathering data on the target scene from several sensors at various viewing angles, the test was designed as a tracking event of a complicated target.
SM-3 Blk IIA and the Aegis Weapons System showed extra reserve capability with the successful hit, even though an intercept of the target was not required to accomplish this goal.
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