US operational evaluation was conducted in July 2002 aboard USS Shoup (DDG-86). Initial operational capability did not occur until later.
In October 2003, at the USN Pacific Missile Range Facility near Hawaii, Australian frigate HMAS Warramunga conducted a successful firing of an ESSM. The firing was also the first operational use of the CEA Technologies CWI for guidance.
In November 2003, approximately 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the Azores, the Royal Netherlands Navy (RNLN) frigate HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën conducted a live fire test of a single ESSM. This firing was the first ever live firing involving a full-size ship-borne Active electronically scanned array (i.e. the APAR radar) guiding a missile using the Interrupted Continuous Wave Illumination (ICWI) technique in an operational environment. As related by Jane's Navy International:
During the tracking and missile-firing tests, target profiles were provided by Greek-built EADS/3Sigma Iris PVK medium-range subsonic target drones. According to the RNLN, ... "APAR immediately acquired the missile and maintained track until destruction". These ground-breaking tests represented the world's first live verification of the ICWI technique.
In August 2004 a German Navy Sachsen class frigate completed a series of live missile firings at the Point Mugu missile launch range off the coast of California that included a total of 11 ESSM missile firings. The tests included firings against target drones such as the Northrup Grumman BQM-74E Chukkar III and Teledyne Ryan BQM-34S Firebee I, as well as against missile targets such as the Beech AQM-37C and air-launched Kormoran 1 anti-ship missiles.
Further live firings were performed by the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën in March 2005, again in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 180 nautical miles (330 km) west of the Azores. The tests involved three live-firing events (two of which involved the ESSM) including firing a single SM-2 Block IIIA at an Iris target drone at long range, a single ESSM at an Iris target drone, and a two-salvo launch (with one salvo comprising two SM-2 Block IIIAs and the other comprising two ESSMs) against two incoming Iris target drones.
All ESSM launches from De Zeven Provinciën class frigates and Sachsen class frigates involved ESSMs quad-packed in a Mark 41 Vertical Launching System.
The first "kill" by the RIM-162D from a United States Navy carrier's Mk 29 launcher was achieved during a training exercise by the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) on 7 October 2008.
On 14 May 2013, the ESSM intercepted a high-diving supersonic test target, demonstrating the ability to hit high-G maneuvering. No software changes were needed to prove the ESSM's enhanced capability.