Self Defense Test Ship (SDTS)


The sinking of the HMS Sheffield in 1982 by an anti-ship cruise missile highlighted a critical need among navies to test and verify self-defense systems. The U.S. Navy needed a safe and reliable means to test ships’ defense systems against realistic missile surrogates. Using active-duty vessels could endanger lives and potentially cause millions of dollars in damage. Furthermore, firing near ships necessitated safety measures that compromised the operational realism necessary to accurately assess end-to-end system performance.


Beginning in 1984, the U.S. Navy began using decommissioned vessels as unmanned self-defense test ships, and called the program Self-Defense Test Ship (SDTS). The SDTS makes it possible to test ships’ defense systems on an unmanned remote controlled vessel, which eliminates the concern of endangering Navy personnel. The SDTS has been configured as the live-fire surrogate for a half-dozen ship classes, and it can be adapted to future classes as well. Engility has been a core component in designing and executing an Enterprise Test strategy on the SDTS since its inception.

Tests involving the SDTS require complicated planning and preparation. Engility personnel provide programmatic, technical, financial and engineering support for all classes of ships tested on the current test ship — the former USS Paul F. Foster (EDD-964). In addition to coordination activities, the team (1) provides comprehensive budget estimate inputs for test events; (2) offers comprehensive aviation expertise and identifies cost-effective methods and resources, in order to safely meet critical test requirements with suitable aircraft; and (3) coordinates the planning, execution, analysis and reporting while providing test resources such as target and ordnance allocation, oversight, transportation and after-action expenditure reports.

Additionally, the team helps develop test scenarios, conducts pre-event empirical assessments, aligns cyber security and information assurance, captures lessons learned and prepares post-event performance assessments, which provide valuable input used to improve the success rate of events, maximize budget efficiency and ensure customer satisfaction. Engility has implemented a database in which lessons learned from events are recorded for historical value and process improvement. This database, built from Engility’s SDTS support legacy, is used across multiple test and evaluation groups. Furthermore, Engility activities help the Navy achieve cyber security and information assurance certifications and accreditations needed to conduct at-sea events.


The SDTS allows for realistic end-to-end testing that would not be possible using manned ships. The program allows the Navy to broaden its ship defense research without endangering lives. Engility’s Enterprise Testing integrates planning, resourcing, budgeting and execution across combat system variants and their associated elements in lieu of each program office, planning and executing its own Test & Evaluation (T&E) events independently. By leveraging common system testing conducted to date, Engility expects to help the Navy realize more than $250 million in T&E cost avoidance over the life of the program. With the integration of T&E execution at the combat system level, test scenarios, missile expenditures and individual ship test requirements are augmented and costs are avoided. The approach saves resources for the Navy while optimizing a program that protects American Sailors.