The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has achieved its third successful test of the Raytheon SM-3 IB interceptor as well as its first flight demonstration of a new ballistic missile target designed by Lockheed Martin.

The SM-3 IB intercepted its third target in four tries during a May 16 test in the Pacific. The USS Lake Erie acquired what the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) calls a “separating short-range ballistic missile target” and guided its SM-3 IB in for the intercept. More complex tests incorporating other target acquisition sensors are slated for later in the flight test campaign.

The IB incorporates an improved two-color infrared seeker and throttleable divert-and-attitude-control system that was lacking on the SM-3 IA.

The SM-3 IA was pitted against such a separating target with success during its flight test campaign. Mitch Stevison, the company’s SM-3 program director, declined to compare the performance of the two models and noted that data still must be analyzed from the recent test.

“What we saw in the preliminary data was that the IB seeker demonstrated robust performance above and beyond our expectations,” he told reporters in a May 16 teleconference.

The next SM-3 IB test is slated by year’s end, and could include a salvo of multiple targets and interceptors, he says. Program officials hope to conduct two more flight trials by next year.

Only three days before the SM-3 intercept, the MDA-sponsored Extended Medium-Range Ballistic Missile target program conducted its first prototype flight experiment at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. A full-scale mock-up of the target was released from the cargo bay of a C-17 transport at 25,000 ft., according to officials at Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor. “The EMRBM air-launch equipment and carriage extraction system performed nominally in this test, verifying system performance,” says Patricia Dare, Lockheed Martin’s Targets and Countermeasures program director. The first powered flight test is slated by year’s end.

This prototype is a replica lacking expensive propulsion systems, as it was used to conduct the ejection exercise. The missile must be ejected by an aircraft because the U.S. doesn’t have a big enough range to allow for a full flight. MDA crafted the EMRBM program quickly to emulate adversary missiles in development. The company is on contract to produce five of them.

Meanwhile, Raytheon officials are ramping down production of the SM-3 IA in preparation for full-rate production of the IB, which is slated for year’s end. Officials are producing about three per month, though they are working to demonstrate adding another. Full-rate production is slated to include four of the interceptors monthly. Permission to boost production was contingent on three successful flight tests, Stevison said.

Raytheon has plans to go as high as eight per month in the future if funding allows. The first SM-3, a IB model, is slated for delivery to MDA next week from Raytheon’s new facility in Huntsville, Ala.; assembly previously took place in Tucson, Ariz. Raytheon has delivered 130 SM-3 IAs to the U.S. and Japan, which also participates in the Aegis-based program.

The SM-3 IB is integral to the White House’s plan to incrementally improve missile defenses in Europe under the Phased Adaptive Approach. This plan calls for deploying the system on ships and in a new land-based configuration in 2015. Stevison said the program is on track to achieve this fielding date despite a failure in September 2011 on the first flight attempt. A third-stage propulsion anomaly was found to be the culprit. “That anomaly has been … resolved and mitigating performance measures have been instituted into the system,” he says. “We have great confidence that the system is speaking for itself now,” after three successful flight campaigns.