U.S. anti-missile test background (to update your pieces)

Washington Post: June 1, 2017
The Pentagon released video footage Wednesday showing the exact moment a U.S. “kill vehicle” intercepted and destroyed a mock intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as it flew outside the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

The target, designed to simulate what might be launched by North Korea or Iran, looks to have been completely destroyed, according to Vice Adm. Jim Syring, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency Wednesday.

Syring told reporters that his agency will spend the next month analyzing the data from the $244 million test, including locating the exact spot where the kill vehicle impacted the mock ballistic missile.

“All our systems performed exactly as designed,” he said, adding that the test was “very realistic.”

The kill vehicle, or exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV), is a five-foot-long device that is jettisoned from a ground-launched missile before colliding with the incoming ICBM. The kill vehicle uses onboard sensors and thrusters, along with data from the ground, to rapidly calculate the direction and speed needed to find and destroy the incoming warhead. The EKV uses kinetic energy, not explosives, to destroy its target.

In this case, the EKV and its adjoining missile were fired at around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday from Vandenburg Airbase, Calif., and collided with the test ICBM soon after. The test ICBM was fired from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshall Islands. The string of islands and tiny atolls was the site of more than 65 nuclear tests during the Cold War.

The entire program is called the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system, and it uses a wide array of radar and sensors as well as ground-launched missiles to help intercept ICBMs. Tuesday’s test involved a gigantic floating radar dish in the Pacific, called the X-Band radar, to help target the missile.

The roughly $40 billion program was declared operational in 2004 and has had mixed success. The GMD began test intercepts in the late 1990s and gained new relevance as North Korea began to develop an ICBM capable of hitting the United States.

Syring said that current projections based off of intelligence reports indicate that the GMD could handle any threat launched by a U.S. adversary through 2020.

“I was confident before the test that we had the capability to defeat any threat that they would throw at us. And I’m even more confident today after seeing the intercept test yesterday that we continue to be on that course,” Syring said.


Philip E. Coyle, a senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation who formerly headed the Pentagon’s office of operational test and evaluation, said that the test was barely realistic and voiced doubts about the overall success of the GMD program.

“Having this success was very important,” Coyle said in a statement. “It marks two successes in a row, which is significant, but only two hits out of the last five attempts; that is, only a 40 percent success rate since early 2010.”

“In several ways, this test was a $244-million-dollar baby step,” he added.
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The GMD Intercept: What Does It Mean? (Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington)
Thomas Karako
Senior Fellow, International Security Program, Missile Defense Project


May 30, 2017

Q1: Today’s missile defense test was a success. What does that mean?

A1: This is a good day for homeland missile defense, and a bad day for Kim Jong-un. Hit-to-kill missile defense has once again been validated, this time against a complex and challenging ICBM-class threat. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has been on a long road to improving the reliability and capability of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program. The United States has long expressed an unwillingness to accept strategic vulnerability to certain types of missile threats, like those from North Korea. Today’s test affirms the credibility of these efforts and bodes well for the defense of the nation. Today's intercept also means that hit-to-kill deniers will have a harder time contending that long-range missile defense doesn’t work.

Q2: What is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system?

A2: GMD is the only U.S. missile defense system currently devoted to defending the U.S. homeland from long-range ballistic missile attacks. First operationally fielded in 2004, GMD and its associated elements today span 15 time zones, including two Ground-based Interceptor (GBI) sites at Ft. Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg AFB, California, seven types of sensors, and various command and control systems. By the end of this year, a total of 44 GBIs will be deployed, 40 based at Ft. Greely, and another 4 at Vandenberg AFB.

When satellite sensors initially detect a missile launch from the heat signature of its plume, that information and data from other radars is fused and fed into a fire control system, which is then used to launch one or more GBIs. The GBIs fly into the path of an incoming missile before releasing an Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), which uses onboard sensors to itself detect and then hunt down the warhead, destroying it with the force of physical impact.

Q3: What happened during the May 30 test?

A3: This is the first full-fledged intercept test of the system since the successful intercept in June 2014 (FTG-06b). Dubbed “FTG-15,” today’s event involved an ICBM-range target launched from the Kwajalein Atoll. Multiple sensor systems, including space-based infrared satellites and likely an Aegis SPY-1 radar, detected the missile and tracked its location. The Sea-based X-band Radar (SBX) also surveilled the missile, providing high resolution imagery which allowed the GMD system to discriminate the missile’s warhead from its accompanying debris.

Using this data, a GBI was launched from Vandenberg AFB. Once in space, the GBI released its Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), which identified the warhead with its onboard electro-optical and infrared sensors, diverted into the warhead’s path, and collided with it.

This test was the first full intercept test of the latest EKV configuration, called the Capability Enhancement-2 Block I (CE-2 Blk I). Among other improvements, the newer configuration features upgraded thrusters to better maneuver in space. An additional 8 of these newer kill vehicles are slated for deployment over the course of this year. Today’s intercept virtually guarantees that the deployments will go forward. This number could potentially grow beyond 44 to keep pace with the threat.

In a CSIS report released last month, Missile Defense 2020, we laid out a roadmap for what next steps might look like for the future of homeland missile defense, to include further increases in capacity, capability, and reliability.


Q4: What comes next for GMD?

A4: In the immediate term, this intercept clears the way for the deployment of the full 44 interceptors, of which eight more are on track to be deployed by the end of 2017. Some of the technologies demonstrated on today’s interceptor will also likely be part of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV), expected to replace most of the current kill vehicles in the fleet over the course of the next decade. Drawing upon extensive testing of both GBIs and Aegis/Standard Missile intercepts of the past decade, the RKV is expected to dramatically improve upon the reliability and manufacturability of the interceptors, as well as lower their cost and complexity. Should all continue to go well, GMD could come to be associated with the same degree of reliability and effectiveness now associated with other so-called regional defenses.

Q5: What makes GMD different from other missile defenses?

A5: GMD is designed expressly to counter long-range, intercontinental class ballistic missiles which threaten the U.S. homeland. It uses a three-stage booster, giving the necessary range and divert capability to perform intercepts over a greater distance. This range in turn gives GMD the greatest coverage area of any U.S. system, defending all fifty states. Other missile defense systems, including Aegis, THAAD, and Patriot, are generally described as “regional” systems, and are tailored more toward short or intermediate range ballistic missile threats. While elements of these systems may have homeland defense applications, they have significantly smaller coverage areas than GMD.

Conversely, GMD is not capable of shorter range, regional defense missions. North Korea’s short and medium range missiles threatening South Korea and Japan, for example, fall outside of GMD’s engagement envelope. These threats require other solutions, such as Aegis, THAAD, or Patriot. GMD is also not designed to intercept missiles within the atmosphere.

Q6: How has GMD performed in the past?

A6: Before today, there were some 30 GBI flight tests, as well as one “no-test” due to the failure of the target (rather than the interceptor). Seventeen of these 30 have been intercept tests involving an attempt to hit a target, rather than mere flight tests. Of these 17, there have been nine successful intercepts for a success rate of 53%. Numerous factors have contributed to this record, including inconsistencies in kill vehicle manufacturing and anomalies in test-only equipment. For example, a failed test in 2002 was due to incompatibility between a surrogate booster used only for testing and the kill vehicle, which resulted in a failure of the EKV to separate from the booster.

Q7: Are these tests realistic?

A7 : Although there is room for more challenging and realistic tests, the complexity and realism of GMD testing has increased considerably over the past two decades. They have consistently evolved in the number of integrated sensors involved in the tests, and in the complexity of the target missiles. There are, of course, limitations in the testing of any military system, including the size of its test range an d the locations from which both targets and interceptors may be fired. Missile tests must also be arranged well in advance, and proper notification given to aviation and maritime authorities, so intercept tests must also occur during a designated window of time.

The most “realistic” test would be for North Korea to attack, but that is a degree of realism for which no one should wish.

Thomas Karako is a senior fellow in the International Security Program and director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2017 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.
Photo credit: RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images

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he U.S. military destroyed "a mock intercontinental ballistic missile over the Pacific with a new hit-to-kill vehicle meant to protect the homeland against the growing threat from North Korea,"Military.com reported after Tuesday's test from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
"The launch of a Ground-based Midcourse Defense, or GMD, interceptor missile...against an ICBM-class target fired from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands resulted in a 'direct collision,'" according to the Missile Defense Agency.
Tuesday's launch marked the first intercept test of the GMD system since 2014, and the first against an ICBM-class target-bringing the system's stats to now 10 for 18 overall, and two for last five attempts, writes Kingston Reif, missile specialist at Arms Control Now.
"This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat," Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring said in a statement following Tuesday's test.
The contrarian's view: "At best [the GMD] system provides limited capability to defend United States against a small, unsophisticated ICBM attack," Reif wrote on Twitter after reading Syring's statement. Why? The "tests are undertaken in a controlled, scripted environment (for some legit reasons) and the system was given info in advance that no real enemy would provide." It also hasn't been tested against more than one target, he adds, "or by firing multiple interceptors against a single target. Nor has the system yet demonstrated a capability vs. decoys and countermeasures that an adversary could use to fool the system, including North Korea." For where to go from here, read Reif's recent write-up on the topic in War on the Rocks, here.
On the other hand, "This is an important day for homeland missile defense, and a bad day for Kim Jung-un," says Tom Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Hit-to-kill has once again been validated, this time against an ICBM. The Missile Defense Agency has been on a long road to improve the reliability and capability of the GBI fleet. For two decades, the United States has expressed an unwillingness to accept vulnerability against certain types of missile threats, like those from North Korea. Today's test promises good things for the defense of the nation."
For the record: The U.S. has spent $330 billion trying to develop ICBM interceptor technology, Stephen I. Schwartz, a military analyst at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif., told The New York Times. "Yet neither the high cost nor the poor performance has dampened enthusiasm in Congress or at the Pentagon - or among military contractors - for deploying missile defenses. The Defense Department hopes to spend billions more dollars on the interceptors, including perhaps on a new site on the East Coast," the Times writes in their wider look at the "urgency" around Tuesday's launch.
Also on Tuesday, "B-1B bombers flew near the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea," The Wall Street Journal reported. "North Korea accused the U.S. of staging a 'nuclear-bomb-dropping drill' with the bombers, which it sees as a new provocation in addition to the presence of the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, two aircraft carriers that are operating near the Korean Peninsula." More here.
Happening today at 10 a.m. EDT: Adm. Syring speaks to the press at the Pentagon by phone. Stay tuned for what shakes out of that.
Happening in 2018, maybe: The next intercept test of the GMD system, Kingston Reif adds. That test is supposed to be another first-firing multiple interceptors at an ICBM target.


Last modified: Thursday, 1 June 2017, 10:49 AM