U.S. Ends Losing Streak with Successful Missile Intercept Test


A Ground Based Interceptor is launched on Sunday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The interceptor successfully neutralized an intermediate-range ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon said.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
See more stories about...
Rachel Oswald
June 23, 2014, 7:55 a.m.

The United States on Sunday in­ter­cep­ted a tar­get bal­list­ic mis­sile, end­ing a long los­ing streak of failed tests of its home­land an­ti­mis­sile sys­tem.

The test of the Ground-based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem took place Sunday over the Pa­cific and in­volved a stra­tegic Ground Based In­ter­cept­or fired from Vanden­berg Air Force Base, Cal­if., and an in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­sile tar­get launched from the Re­agan Test Site in the Mar­shall Is­lands.

Con­sid­er­able polit­ic­al at­ten­tion has been fo­cused on the out­come of the test, giv­en that the three most re­cent in­ter­cept at­tempts all ended in fail­ure. Be­fore Sunday’s test, the last time a Ground Based In­ter­cept­or suc­cess­fully elim­in­ated a tar­get mis­sile was late 2008. Ad­di­tion­ally, Sunday’s event marked the first time that a second-gen­er­a­tion kin­et­ic kill vehicle moun­ted atop a GBI mis­sile per­formed cor­rectly. Both pre­vi­ous mis­sile in­ter­cept at­tempts us­ing the “CE-2” Exoat­mo­spher­ic Kill Vehicle were un­suc­cess­ful.

“I am very proud of the gov­ern­ment and in­dustry team con­duct­ing the test today,” Navy Vice Adm. James Syr­ing, head of the Pentagon’s Mis­sile De­fense Agency, said in a press re­lease. “This is a very im­port­ant step in our con­tinu­ing ef­forts to im­prove and in­crease the re­li­ab­il­ity of our home­land bal­list­ic mis­sile de­fense sys­tem.”

Syr­ing said the agency would con­tin­ue with its plans to de­ploy ad­di­tion­al Ground Based In­ter­cept­ors. The De­fense De­part­ment last year an­nounced plans to spend $1 bil­lion to field 14 more GBI mis­siles at Fort Greely in Alaska by 2017, but seni­or of­fi­cials have been cir­cum­spect in their re­cent state­ments about what would hap­pen to those plans if Sunday’s test had been un­suc­cess­ful.

The Mis­sile De­fense Agency said “ini­tial in­dic­a­tions” show that all com­pon­ents in the test — in­clud­ing the in­ter­cept­or, kill vehicle, an AN/SPY-1 radar on­board the USS Hop­per and a sea-based X-band radar sys­tem — per­formed as in­ten­ded. Over the next few months, pro­gram spe­cial­ists will use tele­met­ric in­form­a­tion and oth­er data col­lec­ted dur­ing the test to con­duct a more thor­ough ana­lys­is.

Re­ac­tions to the test were var­ied, with long­time pro­ponents of mis­sile de­fenses say­ing it val­id­ated the Ground-based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem.

U.S. Rep­res­ent­at­ive Mike Ro­gers (R-Ala.), chair of the House Armed Ser­vices Stra­tegic Forces Sub­com­mit­tee, in an emailed state­ment called the test “a crit­ic­al suc­cess to re­build[ing] the re­li­ab­il­ity of the only sys­tem cur­rently de­ployed to de­fend our coun­try from the threat of bal­list­ic mis­sile at­tack.”

“Yes­ter­day’s suc­cess­ful mis­sile in­ter­cept test is great news for our na­tion’s se­cur­ity,” said U.S. Sen­at­or Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) in a state­ment to Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire. “Ground-based Mid­course De­fense is crit­ic­al to our ef­forts to pro­tect the U.S. and our al­lies from rogue and un­pre­dict­able na­tions who seek to do us harm.”

Mean­while, pro­gram skep­tics ar­gued that one suc­cess­ful test did not fully as­suage con­cerns about the re­li­ab­il­ity and ef­fic­acy of the an­ti­mis­sile tech­no­logy.

“I think it means less than it ap­pears. This kill vehicle is only one hit for three at­tempts and that’s not enough to base a bil­lion-dol­lar de­cision to move ahead with ex­pan­sion,” said Tom Col­lina, re­search dir­ect­or at the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­ation, in a Monday phone in­ter­view. “They need to do more test­ing to de­term­ine re­li­ab­il­ity” and move for­ward with plans to re­design the kill vehicle, he said.

The Mis­sile De­fense Ad­vocacy Al­li­ance in a press re­lease as­ser­ted that the suc­cess­ful test “re­duces the amount of in­ter­cept­ors re­quired to be fired at an in­com­ing long-range bal­list­ic mis­sile, thereby in­creas­ing the cap­ab­il­ity of the lim­ited num­ber of 30 in­ter­cept­ors and re­du­cing the cost of en­gage­ment.”

However, Philip Coyle, a former chief Pentagon weapons test­er and now a seni­or sci­ence fel­low at the Cen­ter for Arms Con­trol and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, poin­ted out that the Ground Based In­ter­cept­or has nev­er been tested against an in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile tar­get even though the sys­tem is prin­cip­ally fo­cused on de­feat­ing a lim­ited-range ICBM at­tack.

“In ad­di­tion, giv­en the dif­fi­culties MDA has had with con­fig­ur­a­tion con­trol, and the changes it has made and is plan­ning to make to the [CE-2] kill vehicle, it is far from clear that the per­form­ance of the kill vehicle in [Sunday’s] test will be rep­res­ent­at­ive of oth­er con­fig­ur­a­tions already de­ployed and planned for de­ploy­ment in silos at Fort Greely,” he said in an emailed state­ment.

Of the 30 in­ter­cept­ors cur­rently fielded at bases in Alaska and Cali­for­nia, 10 mis­siles are equipped with the second-gen­er­a­tion kill vehicle. The 14 new in­ter­cept­ors slot­ted for de­ploy­ment in Alaska are to be out­fit­ted with the CE-2 ver­sion.

What We're Following See More »
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
1 days ago

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
1 days ago

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
1 days ago

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
1 days ago

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
1 days ago

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.