Pentagon Test Czar Sees Possible Need for Interceptor Component Redesign

A U.S. Ground Based Interceptor, equipped with an Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, takes off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in a January 2013 flight test of the long-range missile defense technology. The Pentagon's testing czar in a Wednesday report said multiple test failures of the kill vehicle suggest a redesign may be needed.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
See more stories about...
Rachel Oswald
Jan. 29, 2014, 9:25 a.m.

The Pentagon’s test­ing czar on Wed­nes­day said a crit­ic­al piece of the U.S. mis­sile-de­fense sys­tem may re­quire a re­design fol­low­ing mul­tiple test fail­ures.

The De­fense De­part­ment’s op­er­a­tion­al test and eval­u­ation of­fice con­cluded in its fisc­al 2013 an­nu­al re­port that re­peated mis­fires of the Ground-Based Mid­course De­fense, or “GMD,” sys­tem’s Exoat­mo­spher­ic Kill Vehicle “raise ques­tions re­gard­ing the ro­bust­ness of the EKV’s design.”

The three most re­cent at­tempts at in­ter­cept­ing a dummy bal­list­ic mis­sile us­ing the Ray­theon-de­veloped EKV com­pon­ent have all been un­suc­cess­ful. The last suc­cess­ful test in­ter­cept was in 2008.

The Exoat­mo­spher­ic Kill Vehicle is the front-end com­pon­ent of the mis­sile-de­fense ar­chi­tec­ture’s Ground Based In­ter­cept­or and uses kin­et­ic force, rather than a det­on­at­ing war­head, to des­troy in­com­ing mis­siles. There are two ver­sions of the EKV com­pon­ent — the CE-1 kill vehicle and a later-gen­er­a­tion CE-2 mod­el.

A suc­cess­ful non-in­ter­cept flight tri­al last Janu­ary of a mod­i­fied ver­sion of  the CE-2 vehicle made the Pentagon’s Mis­sile De­fense Agency hope­ful the tech­no­logy prob­lems that caused the suc­cess­ive test-in­ter­cept fail­ures in 2010  had been fixed. However, an un­suc­cess­ful Ju­ly in­ter­cept at­tempt raised new prob­lems with the Ground Based In­ter­cept­or when the CE-1 kill vehicle failed to sep­ar­ate from the mis­sile’s third-stage rock­et boost­er.

North Korea’s pro­gress in de­vel­op­ing long-range mis­siles — and, to a less­er de­gree, Ir­an’s such pro­gress — have made im­prov­ing U.S. home­land mis­sile de­fenses a ma­jor na­tion­al se­cur­ity fo­cus for the Re­pub­lic­an Party, which is push­ing for the cre­ation of a third in­ter­cept­or site some­where on the East Coast. Cur­rently there are two in­ter­cept­or sites — one in Cali­for­nia and an­oth­er in Alaska — that field a total of 30 Ground Based In­ter­cept­or mis­siles. The Pentagon is plan­ning on de­ploy­ing an ad­di­tion­al 14 in­ter­cept­ors in 2017 in Alaska, as a re­sponse to North Korea’s nuc­le­ar and mis­sile pro­gress.

Mi­chael Gilmore, the Pentagon test­ing dir­ect­or, in his fisc­al 2013 re­port ad­vised the de­part­ment to “con­sider wheth­er to re­design the EKV us­ing a rig­or­ous sys­tems en­gin­eer­ing pro­cess to as­sure its design is ro­bust against fail­ure.”

MDA spokes­man Richard Lehner in a Wed­nes­day email said he had no in­form­a­tion to share about wheth­er the Exoat­mo­spher­ic Kill Vehicle would be re­tooled.

“After the Decem­ber 2010 GMD flight test fail­ure, the Mis­sile De­fense Agency made cor­rec­tions to the EKV to ad­dress the fail­ure mech­an­ism seen in the in­ter­cept test fail­ure,” Lehner wrote. “The EKV’s per­form­ance was proven in the Janu­ary 2013 non-in­ter­cept flight test in which the in­ter­cept­or com­pleted a stress­ing flight pro­file without ex­per­i­en­cing the is­sues seen in the 2010 test fail­ure.”

However, the test czar’s re­port con­cluded that “the per­form­ance of GMD dur­ing flight tests in [fisc­al 2013] pre­ven­ted any im­prove­ment in the as­sess­ment of GMD cap­ab­il­ity.”

The Pentagon test­ing and eval­u­ation of­fice in its fisc­al 2012 re­port con­cluded that prob­lems with the EKV tech­no­logy were pre­vent­ing the United States from mov­ing bey­ond any­thing but a lim­ited cap­ab­il­ity to des­troy a few in­com­ing bal­list­ic mis­siles. All in­ter­cept tri­als to date have in­volved only one tar­get, where­as an ac­tu­al bal­list­ic-mis­sile at­tack on the United States might well in­volve more than one in­com­ing mis­sile.

“It has taken [the De­fense test dir­ect­or] a long time to reach the con­clu­sion that the GMD kill vehicles may be too flawed to save,” King­ston Re­if of the Cen­ter for Arms Con­trol and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion said in an email. “It is not clear wheth­er Mis­sile De­fense Agency Dir­ect­or [Vice] Adm. [James] Syr­ing — or more im­port­antly Sec­ret­ary of De­fense [Chuck] Hagel — share this con­clu­sion.”

What We're Following See More »
FRENCH IS A LAWYER, VETERAN
Kristol Recruiting National Review’s David French for Third-Party Run
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Two Republicans intimately familiar with Bill Kristol’s efforts to recruit an independent presidential candidate to challenge Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have told Bloomberg Politics that the person Kristol has in mind is David French -- whose name the editor of the Weekly Standard floated in the current issue of the magazine.

French is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to the website of National Review, where French is a staff writer, he is a constitutional lawyer, a recipient of the Bronze Star, and an author of several books who lives in Columbia, Tenn., with his wife Nancy and three children."

Source:
CALIFORNIA VOTES IN A WEEK
Jerry Brown Backs Clinton
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

California Gov. Jerry Brown endorsed Hillary Clinton today, calling her "the only path forward to win the presidency and stop the dangerous candidacy of Donald Trump." While praising Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign, Brown said "Clinton’s lead is insurmountable and Democrats have shown – by millions of votes – that they want her as their nominee. ... This is no time for Democrats to keep fighting each other. The general election has already begun."

Source:
GLASS CEILING STILL HARD TO CRACK
Clinton Says Voters Still Hung Up on Gender
11 hours ago
THE LATEST

In a New York Magazine profile, Hillary Clinton said she still encounters misogyny at her own events: “‘I really admire you, I really like you, I just don’t know if I can vote for a woman to be president.’ I mean, they come to my events and then they say that to me.”

Source:
CHANGE WE CAN’T BELIEVE IN
Trump Vows Not to Change
11 hours ago
THE LATEST
Source:
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
4 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

×