Electronics work, but kill missile fails: next NMD test set for October

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the U.S. Department of Defense are scheduling a fourth National Missile Defense (NMD) interceptor evaluation for October, after a missile test failed July 8.

Aug 1st, 2000
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By John Rhea

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the U.S. Department of Defense are scheduling a fourth National Missile Defense (NMD) interceptor evaluation for October, after a missile test failed July 8.

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A U.S. kill missile lifts off from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Western Pacific July 8 in its attempt to intercept and destroy a dummy warhead and decoy launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The July 8 test flopped because the kill vehicle failed to separate from its booster and destroy the target after firing from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The test kill vehicle was attempting to destroy a dummy warhead and decoy fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the coast of central California.

This next test will come just weeks before President Clinton is due to make his decision in November on whether to proceed with the program to field a limited ballistic missile defense system in 2005. In tests to date, the electronics portions of the system have outperformed the rockets, which are generally considered a more mature technology.


Missile controllers take care of last-minute details before the test launch.
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In the July test, the kill vehicle did not receive a signal that second stage separation had occurred and therefore did not home in on the target, explains Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) in Arlington, Va. The kill vehicle contains the infrared sensors necessary for interception.

However, Kadish noted that the booster in this test was a "surrogate," not the one that would be used in an operational NMD system. There was also a failure of the decoy balloon in the target vehicle, a Minuteman missile launched from California, to inflate, "so it was an uninflated decoy," Kadish told a Pentagon news briefing.

Further, the X-band radar did work, and this is a critical element in any operational NMD system, points out Jacques Gansler, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.

Another electronic portion of the system, the communications link that feeds targeting information from the radar to the 120-pound kill vehicle, also functioned as planned, Gansler says.

Previous tests in October 1999 and January of this year were partially successful. The first test demonstrated that the kill vehicle could distinguish the target from a single decoy. Yet the infrared sensor failed on the second test, causing the kill vehicle to miss the target. The tests are estimated to cost $100 million each.

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