Postscript to NROL-21
Gizmodo has a Liveleak Video of the NROL-21 intercept. The video on impact in General Cartwright's briefing is very similar to those of earlier test shots like that shown after the Read More!
This is video of an earlier test. Wait for the sensor images of the strike at the end. It makes shooting down high-speed, high-altitude targets almost like a repeatable routine.
The shootdown provides a peek at the improvements in target tracking and processing capability now entering service. Popular Mechanics had a recent story on improvements to the Aegis radar system involving "digital beamforming".
The new radar system, called digital beamforming, could become a game-changing technology that may help defeat an overwhelming attack on U.S. warships by missiles. It could also answer one of the chief complaints about ballistic missile defense systems—that decoys or other countermeasures could easily hide a warhead and spoof interceptors. If placed on satellites, new spy and environmental monitoring missions become possible from orbit.
All this comes as an improvement to an existing system called phased-array radar. While traditional radars spin their faces to seek targets, phased-array radars guide a reflective beam electronically from a stationary panel. They can track things by moving the main beam very quickly, within microseconds, at numerous targets. But the phased array systems cannot seamlessly track multiple targets at the same time without losing resolution. Lockheed’s improvement on these radars allows true simultaneous tracking, with each target followed by a dedicated radar beam.
Digital beamforming, then, combines the cutting edges of antenna and digital technologies: A radar array digitizes the signals it receives, preserving all the incoming information. This data is then used to form as many radar beams as necessary to track as many objects as appear. The crucial advantage to this approach is the ability to confidently cover a vast area with a single system.
The Navy may also have the ability to integrate target tracking data from a plethora of sources in addition to the ship's organic radars. These improvements in fire control combined with the airframe capabilities of the Standard missile system may mean that these already deadly surface combatants have become even more so.