The modified SM-3 missile is on its way. 
Lake Erie Satellite Shot
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service PEARL HARBOR 

The crew members of the USS Lake Erie (CG 70) were calm as they fired the latest shot heard round the world. The Aegis-class cruiser fired the missile that destroyed a dead spy satellite that posed a threat to humans Feb. 21. Capt. Randall M. Hendrickson, Lake Erie's commanding officer, spoke to reporters Feb. 24 aboard the ship, which has just returned from the mission. The visiting reporters are traveling with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited the ship.

The ship's weapons systems officer, Lt. Cmdr. Drew Bates, said the rehearsals really helped when push came to shove. "By the time we did this, we had seen it a hundred times," he said. "We were practicing what to do in case things go wrong. Fortunately nothing went wrong. This went just the way it was designed to happen, and hats off to the industry team for giving the nation a system that was able to have the excess capability to do this." The satellite was unlike any target the system was designed to go after, the captain said. The satellite was in orbit rather than on a ballistic trajectory. Also, the satellite was traveling at incredible speeds.

Lake Erie left here the day officials announced President George W. Bush's decision to try to shoot down the satellite. Hendrickson said the ship was in position when the shuttle Atlantis returned from its mission. The ship received the order that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had OK'd the mission at mid-morning on Feb. 21. "From that point on, the ship was very calm," Hendrickson said. "Obviously, the closer we got, there was a lot of anticipation. The firing team was very calm when we did it and, with the exception of the 'whoosh' when it went out of the launcher, it was just as scripted." He said that when the missile's seeker opened its eyes it had the satellite "right dead center." When the missile hit the satellite, "there was a lot of cheering" aboard the ship, he said.

The reaction of the crew is unbelievable, said Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Mack Ellis, the highest-ranking enlisted Sailor aboard Lake Erie. "Even the youngest Sailor who didn't understand it at first, every time they walk somewhere and people know they are from Lake Erie, they say congratulations. It puts a smile of their face and makes their day."


Lake Erie Crew Describes Satellite Shot

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, Feb. 24, 2008 – The crewmembers of the USS Lake Erie were calm as they fired the latest shot heard round the world. The Aegis-class cruiser fired the missile Feb. 21 that destroyed a dead spy satellite that posed a threat to humans.

Navy Capt. Randall M. Hendrickson, the Lake Erie’s commanding officer, spoke to reporters today aboard the ship, which has just returned from the mission. The visiting reporters are traveling with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who visited the ship.

U.S. Navy Capt. Randall M. Hendrickson, commanding officer of the USS Lake Erie, describes the successful launch of a SM3The captain said the crew worked intensively for a month and a half before the shootdown. “We kept working up with a team of government experts and technicians, as well as industry partners,” Hendrickson said.

The group worked to gather information and modify the Standard Missile 3 and the Aegis weapon system, he said. They started tracking the satellite at different times to get radar cross-section data, which helped build the program software, Hendrickson said.

“Obviously there was a lot of anticipation building up each time we practiced, each time we tracked,” he said.

The ship’s weapons systems officer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Drew Bates, said the rehearsals really helped when push came to shove. “By the time we did this, we had seen it a hundred times,” he said. “We were practicing what to do in case things go wrong. Fortunately nothing went wrong. This went just the way it was designed to happen, and hats off to the industry team for giving the nation a system that was able to have the excess capability to do this.”

The satellite was unlike any target the system was designed to go after, the captain said. The satellite was in orbit rather than on a ballistic trajectory. Also, the satellite was traveling at incredible speeds.

The Lake Erie left here the day officials announced President Bush’s decision to try to shoot down the satellite. Hendrickson said the ship was in position when the shuttle Atlantis returned from its mission.

The ship received the order that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had OK’d the mission at mid-morning on Feb. 21. “From that point on, the ship was very calm,” Hendrickson said. “Obviously, the closer we got, there was a lot of anticipation. The firing team was very calm when we did it and, with the exception of the ‘whoosh’ when it went out of the launcher, it was just as scripted.”

He said that when the missile’s seeker opened its eyes it had the satellite “right dead center.”

When the missile hit the satellite, “there was a lot of cheering” aboard the ship, he said.

The crew knew from the kinetic warhead imagery in the nose of the missile that it was a good hit, the captain said.

“The radar scope went wild,” he said. “At that point, there was a lot of debris, a lot of pieces and, at that point, we thought we had a pretty good impact. Then that was confirmed by the aircraft that were airborne, the radars ashore and some other sensors that it was pretty much obliterated. Over the next three to four hours, a lot of it was burning up as it was coming down, which was the whole point of it.”

Civilian experts from the Navy facility in Dahlgren, Va., and contractors from Lockheed Martin and from Raytheon Co. helped the crew prepare for the shot. But Navy sailors manned the consoles for the mission.

Everyone on the USS Lake Erie contributed, the captain said. “Whatever the task is, there’s no small task on a ship,” he said.

The reaction of the crew is unbelievable, said Command Master Chief Petty Officer Mack Ellis, the highest-ranking enlisted sailor on the Lake Erie. “Even the youngest sailor who didn’t understand it at first, every time they walk somewhere and people know they are from Lake Erie, they say congratulations. It puts a smile of their face and makes their day.”


Gates Pleased by Mission's Success

By Fred W. Baker III,
American Forces Press Service

HONOLULU, Feb. 21, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was pleased when he learned a U.S. Navy missile hit the crippled reconnaissance satellite that was falling out of orbit and threatening to spill its toxic rocket fuel upon re-entry.

Defense officials could not immediately confirm that the fuel tank had been hit, and said they hope to know for sure by late tonight.

At 5:35 p.m. in Hawaii (10:35 p.m. EST), Gates received a call from Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright and U.S. Strategic Command Commander Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton delivering the news that the Secretary of Defense, Honorable Dr. Robert M. Gatesmission was a success, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said.

“The secretary was obviously very pleased to learn that, and he congratulated General Cartwright and General Chilton, as well as their teams, on a job well done,” Morrell said.

At about 1:40 p.m. EST yesterday, while en route to Hawaii from Washington, Gates held a conference call with the two generals and was told the conditions were “ripe” for an attempt. That is when the secretary gave the go-ahead for the Navy to take the shot, and he wished them luck in their attempt, Morrell said.

At about 10:26 p.m. EST, a U.S. Navy Aegis warship, the USS Lake Erie, fired a single modified tactical Standard Missile 3, hitting the satellite about 133 nautical miles over the Pacific Ocean as it traveled in space at more than 17,000 mph, according to a Defense Department statement.

The objective was to rupture the fuel tank to dissipate the roughly 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, a hazardous fuel that could pose a danger to people on Earth.

“The secretary, like all of us, is standing by to learn more how successful the intercept was,” Morrell said. “After all, the goal here was not just to hit the satellite. The goal here was to hit and destroy the fuel tank to eliminate it as potential danger to those of us here on Earth.”

Because of the relatively low altitude of the satellite at the time of the engagement, debris would have started re-entering the earth's atmosphere immediately, officials said, and nearly all of the debris will burn up on re-entry within two days.

Should any large pieces of the satellite’s debris make it to Earth, special teams are on alert and positioned within the U.S. Pacific Command, Navy. Adm. Timothy J. Keating, PACOM commander, told reporters traveling with the secretary shortly after Gates landed here.

“(The teams are there) to lend assistance should parts of the satellite survive the missile impact and hit,” he said. “We don’t think the hydrazine container is going to hit. That’s why we’re shooting at it. But if it does, we’re prepared to assist with specially trained teams that are on alert at various places throughout our area of responsibility.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen also spoke to reporters here and said the shoot-down does not threaten any country and is not a new space race with any country.

"What we've tried to do from the beginning was be as open as possible about the intention," the chairman said during a news conference at Hickam Air Force Base. "We are taking the shot at what we hope will be an altitude that will minimize the amount of space debris that will occur. We've engaged governments throughout the world to tell them what our intentions are. We have been very transparent, very open in that regard."

The admiral made a point that the Navy's Standard Missile 3 had to be modified to fly the mission at all, and that it would be used only in this kind of emergency response to similar potential dangers.

Gates stopped in Hawaii on the first leg of a nine-day trip around the world aimed at reinforcing relationships with some countries he has yet to visit as defense secretary. In addition to U.S. Pacific Command here, the secretary will participate in annual bilateral talks with Australia, and discuss security matters with his counterparts in Indonesia, India and Turkey.

(Jim Garamone of American Forces Press Service contributed to this story.)

 

 

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