Making the Grade?

Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, outgoing director of the Missile Defense Agency, yesterday touted his agency’s flight test record since 2001 while also announcing that a planned test of the ground-based midcourse defense system is being restructured to account for a faulty component. During a press briefing in the Pentagon (see above), Obering said the MDA has been successful in 35 of 43 hit-to-kill intercept attempts in the midcourse and terminal phases since 2001. This includes hitting five out of five targets with the terminal high altitude area defense system, 13 of 15 with the Aegis system, six of nine with the GMD, and 11 of 14 with the Patriot PAC-3 missile. The test failures that occurred were not the result of major design or functional flaws, but rather malfunctioning components, he said. “We have not had any major show stoppers in our overall program,” he stated. However, the latest test of the GMD system that was originally scheduled for July 18, will not be a full test as originally planned due to a malfunctioning component on the interceptor missile, which is at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., Obering said. A device on the test configuration of the missile that recorded flight data is not performing up to spec, and the agency would have incurred a 20 percent risk of losing all the data from the flight, Obering said. This is no trivial matter since these GMD tests can run up to $100 million a piece. As a result, MDA will proceed with a partial test on July 18, using a simulated interceptor in place of an actual asset to engage the long-range target missile, while the GMD sensors and battle management components function as if it was a full end-to-end mission. Then in December, MDA plans to launch the interceptor in another test from Vandenberg.