Missile defense for Europe drew another step closer last month with the latest test of Raytheon’s SM-3 Block 1B missile interceptor. The shot, on May 15, was conducted by the cruiser USS Lake Erie, which destroyed a ballistic missile target fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Hawaii.

“This was the third successful, consecutive intercept with the Standard Missile SM-3 Block 1B that will be deployed in 2015 at sea and on the first land-based site in Romania as part of Phase 2 of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense system. The third intercept was a milestone for us in getting the initial production decision and funding, and it keeps us on track to meet the U.S. commitment to Europe,” Wes Kramer, Raytheon’s VP, air and missile defense systems, told Aviation Week.

The next big milestone, says Kramer, is the fall critical design review (CDR) of the larger 21-in. diameter Block 2A missile that is being co-developed with Japan. The Block 2A will also be deployed in Poland during 2018 under EPAA Phase 3. “We are on track for flight testing in 2016,” says Kraemer, “and we are very mature for a CDR. Typically, at a CDR you lock down all the drawings and then start building hardware. In most cases we already have version 1.0 hardware built and tested.”

“The SM-3 weapons system is designed to go against short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles,” Kramer explains, “The Block 2A with its longer range is primarily for the intermediate-range missile threat – the Iranian threat into Western Europe. So obviously that’s tied to Phase 3 and part of the Polish deployment is to expand coverage of Europe against that threat.”

Two operational flight tests of the Block 2A missile are scheduled for the fall. “We will move away from developmental testing,” says Kramer, “into more complex and challenging scenarios.”

As the plan for European missile defense progresses, Kramer is pleased by moves in the U.S. to expand the system’s footprint at sea. Cautioning that these plans are still at a “draft language” stage with a long way to go before any decisions are made, Kraemer notes a proposal added to the FY14 Defense Authorization Act “that would direct the DoD to evaluate the feasibility of a NATO pool of SM-3 missiles. There are some very capable ships in NATO and giving them the capability not only to target but to fire on ballistic missiles would greatly enhance Europe’s defenses.”

Although British and French vessels would be excluded (due to a launcher incompatibility with the missile) Kramer points out that Danish, Dutch and German ships already carry the SM-3. “The Netherlands is doing upgrades to the radar right now and so the only missing piece is the ability of the APAR radar to communicate with the missile in X-band – the SM-3 is an S-band missile. But about two months ago we announced we’d successfully tested a dual-band data link. It’s S-band and X-band, and we did an end-to-end test with brassboard hardware in the Netherlands.”

In March this year the Obama administration canceled the proposed EPAA Phase 4 and eliminated plans for a further improved SM-3 Block 2B missile. Raytheon hopes that the work done on the ambitious new missile can be salvaged somehow. “There are discussions about putting some of that money into the Advanced Kill Vehicle concept, which is a loosely defined program right now,“ says Kramer. “Also, there’s draft congressional language that would direct the DoD to ‘harvest’ the technology – like with MEADS – although most of what was being done was still at the study level. There wasn’t a lot of hardware. When the FY14 budget is finally passed we’ll get a clearer indication of the restructuring on 2B. Nobody thinks there will be 2B development – it’ll be something else. But it remains unclear exactly what that is.”

Today, about 130 SM-3 Block 1A missiles are deployed between the U.S. and Japan. Another 37 are under contract with deliveries due to start in the summer. This will complete the “build out” of the Block 1A. The Block 1B test and development program saw the purchase of 33 missiles, now in delivery. These missiles will also provide an initial operating capability and negotiations for subsequent production lots are underway. The Block 2A contract covers two intercepts as part of the development program. These missiles will complete the development plan. There is currently a proposal to buy 22 Block 2As for further test and development, with funding to start in FY15.

Says Kramer, “the budget situation is challenging and our customers have some real tough decisions to make, but most indications are that missile defense is a very high priority. Getting the Block 1B missile fielded in sufficient quantities remains high on the list and has been heavily supported by Congress. We are cautiously optimistic on that.”