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DoD Completes Successful Missile-Defense Test

by Brendan McGarry on June 23, 2014

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The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency conducted the first successful test of its ground-based missile defense system in five years.

The Boeing Co.-made Ground-based Midcourse Defense System includes a fleet of 30 rocket-like interceptors in underground silos at the Army’s Fort Greely, Alaska, and the Air Force’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The last successful exercise of the technology — designed to knock down incoming threats from such countries as North Korea and Iran — occurred in late 2008.

On Sunday, a three-stage booster launched from Vandenberg rammed into a dummy warhead fired from a test site on the Kwajalein Atoll in Marshall Islands, the Pentagon announced in a statement. The interceptor featured a newer type of exoatmospheric kill vehicle, or EKV, which sat atop the interceptor and destroyed the projectile on impact.

“This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to improve and increase the reliability of our homeland ballistic missile defense system,” Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said in the statement.

Chicago-based Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, was equally enthusiastic.

“Today’s test demonstrated the system’s performance under an expanded set of conditions that reflect real-world operational requirements,” Jim Chilton, vice president and general manager of the company’s Strategic Missile & Defense Systems, said in a press release.

After the intermediate-range dummy missile was launched from the Reagan Test Site, the Navy destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) detected the target using its Aegis Weapon System and AN/SPY-1 radar, which sent data to the GMD fire-control system, according to the Pentagon statement. The sea-based X-band radar also tracked the object and relayed information to assist with target engagement and data collection, it stated.

About six minutes after the target was launched, the interceptor lifted off from Vandenberg, according to the Pentagon statement. The booster propelled the second-generation kill vehicle, known as the Capability Enhancement II EKV, into the target’s projected trajectory, it stated. The vehicle maneuvered to the target, performed discrimination and intercepted the warhead, it stated.

Boeing is the program’s prime contractor, and Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. builds the interceptor and Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Co. makes the kill vehicle.

“Considering all the hard work that went into this test, I’m sure the MDA and its contractors are relieved to finally have had a success,” Philip Coyle, a senior science fellow Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon’s former top weapons tester, said in a statement. The group is a think tank that works to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles worldwide.

It’s worth noting that this exercise was only the first successful flight intercept test in five and a half years, Coyle said. Two tests of the CE-II kill vehicle failed in 2010 and another test of the CE-I kill vehicle failed last July, he said. That amounts to an overall success rate of just 25 percent, he said.

“This test did not involve an [intercontinental ballistic missile]-range target and the MDA has never tried to defend an ICBM-range target in a flight intercept test,” he added.

In addition, Coyle said, “given the difficulties MDA has had with configuration control, and the changes it has made and is planning to make to the CE-II kill vehicle, it is far from clear that the performance of the kill vehicle in today’s test will be representative of other configurations already deployed and planned for deployment in silos at Fort Greely.

The Pentagon’s budget request for fiscal 2015, beginning Oct. 1, includes more than $1 billion for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System.

The funding would be used to expand the fleet of interceptors to 44, including 40 at Greely and four at Vandenberg, and redevelop the so-called kill vehicle, among other initiatives, according to budget documents. Some $100 million of the funding would go toward a “redesign of the GMD exo-atmospheric kill vehicle for improved reliability, availability, performance, and productivity.”

The system is part of the larger Ballistic Missile Defense System estimated to cost almost $140 billion and the Pentagon’s second-most expensive acquisition program behind the F-35 fighter jet.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Robbie June 23, 2014 at 9:36 am

That's good news. Still got a long way to go before the system can defend against a mass attack from a major nuclear power like China or Russia, but this is a big step forward to avoid being blackmailed by crazy wannabe's like North Korea or Iran.

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Deuterium2H June 23, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Hi Robbie,
The United States National Missile Defense is not intended to defend against "mass attacks from a major nuclear power like China or Russia". It's purpose is to provided limited ballistic missile defense in order to counter (A) Attack by rogue nuclear states–e.g. NK, Iran (B) Nuclear blackmail or terrorism by such rogue nuclear states (C) Accidental or unauthorized launch of a (very) limited number of ICBMs by Russia or China.

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"It is the policy of the United States to deploy, as soon as is technologically possible, an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate) with funding subject to the annual authorization of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for National Missile Defense."
— National Missile Defense Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-38 signed by President Clinton)
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blight_ June 23, 2014 at 8:37 pm

It was probably limited in scope to comply with the ABM treaty. But now that we're out of ABM Treaty…

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Robbie June 23, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Quite true at the moment. But the obvious next step after building a system capable of defending against limited attacks is to update the legislation to support a system capable of defending against mass attacks. To do otherwise would be illogical and a waste of this seed money. One step at a time, which is the point I was making…….

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hibeam June 23, 2014 at 10:10 am

Why can't we have non dummy warheads slamming into nuclear bomb facilities in Iran and North Korea? Then we would not need this silly thing that will leak when we need it most. And our word would mean something.

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OriginalK June 23, 2014 at 1:00 pm

About a year after the Obama administration came into office, virtually all the engineers associated with missile defense improvements and upgrades at the aerospace facility where I worked were laid off or had to change jobs to different programs due to funding cuts. Reducing missile defense spending was one of the priorities of candidate Obama and there was a youtube video where he makes that statement.

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IronV June 23, 2014 at 7:06 pm

You are completely wrong. Obama rejected the Bush plan for missile defense and replaced it with another plan–one championed by SecDef Robert Gates. "Reducing missile defenses" was not a "priority" of Obama's. That's a complete fiction and you probably know it…

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blight_ June 23, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Obama shifted his play to Aegis BMD instead of deploying another GBMDS in Poland.

Airborne Laser was also scrubbed.

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ronaldo June 24, 2014 at 12:52 am

OMG, he sure did scrub that ABL program. What a waste of time and money. Why anyone would screw around with a chemical laser ( even then !!) knowing it was not only impractical, but obsolete is beyond me. Air Force ego for sure.

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Kurt Montandon June 23, 2014 at 11:57 pm

>>there was a youtube video where he makes that statement.

I'm sure you can link to it.

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Rob June 23, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Sorry to be a wrench thrower but I'm not convinced of this system. Easier to launch 2 missiles into each other when each is timed & directed. Then call it a successful test. As well, in a real world scenario first strike, both sides can claim the other launched first. In the age of propaganda and media misinformation especially. Challenge Japan or some country to launch a dummy missile at us, some time next month. See if we can hit it without knowing when or about the system that is deployed at us. good luck

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Robbie June 23, 2014 at 5:20 pm

That's why it's called a test. You know: crawl, walk, run. It's a logical sequence common to any test program. I'd guesstimate this is somewhere in the late crawl stage and making good progress…..

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Rob June 24, 2014 at 9:32 am

Hopefully in future we step it up. lasers on cargo planes in strategic locations. Consider all possibilities. Missiles with lasers even. Systems that deploy gas or flammable liquid onto the incoming missiles. Last resort options of sending even our best manned jet fighters into the path of the missile. Space weapons are banned but no reason not to have satellites saved & ready to launch into orbit that have lasers or deployable interceptor projectiles.

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Greg June 23, 2014 at 9:12 pm

They should put 10 kill vehicles per launcher 30 missiles = 300 kill vehicles.

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z1234 June 24, 2014 at 1:38 am

You'll be more impressed by the FTO missions that involve multiple shooters and targets.

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Dfens June 25, 2014 at 12:02 am

What, it was successful? Top American scientists testified to Congress that it was impossible to hit a missile with a missile. They didn't lie, did they? I guess it's only illegal to lie to Congress if you're telling them a lie they don't want to hear.

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Michael July 21, 2014 at 12:09 am

Congress makes the Army buy Tanks they do not want just to store them in the California bad lands. Congress makes the Air Force but Cargo Planes they do not need or want just to store in the Nevada plane bone yard. We keep putting billions into the F-35 that can't ever fill all the roles it is being asked to do. We them but the F-23 but can't afford enough to be of much help same thing with the B-2. And before long we will be flying 100 year old B-52's. Could it be that our Government and Military is broken and soon we will all may just be plan old broke. This is why we need a small Federal Government with clear and define areas to control and not try being involved in every aspect of the peoples lives..

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