The Track Gate Anomaly: Does it also Affect CE-I Kill Vehicles? (August 15, 2014, revised 8/18/2014)

On Wednesday August 13, at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring was one of the featured speakers. As Admiral Syring started to go through his slides, Aviation Week reporter Amy Butler began to photograph the slides. Even though the the slides were clearly marked “Approved for Public Release,” meeting organizers quickly stopped her, saying photographing of the slides was not permitted. However, before she was stopped she managed to photograph twelve of the slides and subsequently posted them on twitter (she tweets as @ABAviationweek). You can read her account about the slides and her (sucessful) attempt to ask Admiral Syring a question here:

The twelve slides that were posted are actually more detailed and interesting then those in your typical MDA briefing. Hopefully they will all soon be publicly available.

The slide that struck me as the most interesting was one titled “Track Gate Anomaly (TGA)” shown below:


Read the full post »

“Informational Handouts” from MDA Environmental Impact Meetings Posted. (August 9, 2014)

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has begun holding a series of required public meetings as part of the Environmental Impact Review process for the proposed eastern U.S. Ground Based Midcourse (GMD) defense system interceptor site. The first meeting was held on Tuesday (August 5) in Ravenna Ohio. Apparently it was sparsely attended. You can read a description of the meeting here.

A number of other meetings will be held through August. The full list is here.

The MDA has posted its informational handout from the meeting here,

Two points from the handout struck me as noteworthy. First as the slide below suggests, MDA apparently believes that a few 10,000 km ICBMs now exist in the third world.


Second, the sites are being sized for up to 60 interceptors per site (3 x 20 launch silos). Given calls for expanding missile field 1 at Fort Greely Alaska from six to twenty silos, (which would bring the total in Alaska and California to 58 launch silos silos), this could indicate that we are headed for a total deployment of roughly 120 GBI interceptors in the not-too-distant future.

Lying Down on the Ground. It’s Almost as Effective as Iron Dome. And a Lot Cheaper. (July 24, 2014)

According to the Israeli Government, Iron Dome has been 85% effective (or perhaps a bit more) in destroying threatening rockets fired at its territory. However, each Iron Dome interceptor costs roughly $50,000-100,000, which adds up fast when there are a lot of rockets coming in. Moreover, a recent article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists by Theodore Postol challenges this claim, arguing that the evidence indicates that Iron Dome’s success rate in destroying the rockets is actually quite low.

On Sunday (July 20), another perspective on the threat posed by these rockets came out in the course of a hearing before the Israeli Supreme Court. The Court was ruling on a petition from several Bedouin and human rights organizations requesting that the Israeli government provide mobile bomb shelters to Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert. The court rejected the request, saying that the number of mobile bomb shelters was limited and that the government had prioritize where these were deployed.

A key argument made by the Israeli state attorney at the hearing was: “Bomb shelters are a last resort from a security perspective. Lying on the ground reduces danger by 80%.”

Imagine how effective an actual shelter would be.

(Actually, it is not clear how much either bomb shelters or lying down on the ground would actually help the Bedouins, since the warning sirens telling people to seek shelter apparently cannot be heard in many of the Bedouin villages.)

A Closer Look at the CBO’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) System Cost Figures (July 23, 2014)

The Congressional Budget Office has just released a very short report on the Missile Defense Agency’s future spending plans for its Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system.[1] This Report, titled “Historical and Planned Future Budgets for the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Program” was released as a letter to Senator Jeff Sessions and is based on MDA’s budget request projections out through fiscal year 2019. It compares these GMD budget projections with actual GMD spending going back to FY 2008.

The main conclusions people seem likely to draw from the Report are that spending on the GMD system is expected to decline by more than a factor of two from its 2008 level and that by FY 2019 it will fall below $1 billion.[2] Specifically, the Report shows that GMD Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) and GMD Procurement spending will total $789 million in FY 2019. Another $169 million for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) will bring the total FY 2019 GMD spending to $958 million. For comparison, the Report shows that in FY 2008 the total GMD spending was $2,093 million. (None of the $ figures in the Report have been adjusted for inflation.)

Several points should be made:

First the GMD budget falling below $1 billion is not a particularly significant benchmark (nor does the CBO Report say it is). According to the Report’s figures, actual FY 2013 spending on the GMD system was only $923 million.

Second, the actual planned spending on the GMD system will be significantly higher than shown in the CBO Report.[3] To illustrate this, I will focus on the planned GMD spending for FY 2019, the last year considered by the Report. As noted above, the Report says the currently planned GMD spending for FY 2019 is $958 million. However, if we look in more detail at the MDA’s planned budget we see that there are some significant omissions in what the CBO includes. For example, neither the Sea-Based X-Band (SBX) Radar ($63.0 million in FY 2019) nor the Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) ($189 million in FY 2019) is included.[4] The FY 2019 GMD Test line item (Project MT08) included in the CBO cost figure is only $61.6 million.[5] Since each GMD test now costs $200 million or more, this suggests that roughly another $100-150 million for GMD testing should be included in the CBO’s FY 2019 GMD cost estimate figure.[6] A number of other projects that are intended to at least partially to contribute to the GMD system, such as the Common Kill Vehicle Technology Project ($54.3 million in FY 2019) are also not accounted for in the CBO figures.  Taken together, these omissions suggest MDA’s total planned spending for FY 2019 is much closer to $1.5 billion than the $958 million in the CBO Report.

Third, the numbers in the CBO Report are based on MDA plans that do not include a third interceptor site in the eastern United States. If this third site is not built, then by FY 2019, if everything proceeds according to plan, the GMD system would be nearly complete. All 44 planned GBI interceptors would be deployed, the Clear and Cape Cod radars would have been upgraded and incorporated into the system, and the LRDR would be nearly complete (with about $910 million spent on it through FY 2019). While there would certainly be significant ongoing costs, such as for operations, for testing (including buying new interceptors for this purpose) and for technology development and upgrades, one would certainly expect the GMD annual funding to be significantly less that it was FY 2008, when the system was in the midst of being built.

On the other hand, if a decision was made to proceed with a third interceptor site, the future GMD spending situation could look quite different.  The environmental impact statement for the proposed third site location will assess the deployment of between twenty and sixty interceptors at potential sites. If each interceptor cost the same as a current GBI interceptor, about $75 million, then the total cost just for the additional interceptors would be about $1.5-4.5 billion, which would require a large increase in GMD funding over current plans.

[1] Congressional Budget Office, “Historical and Planned Future Budgets for the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Program, letter to Senator Jeff Sessions, July 12, 2014. Available at:

[2] See for example, Jason Sherman, “CBO Traces Decline in GMD Spending From FY-08 To FY-19,” Inside Defense SITREP, July 23, 2014.

[3] The CBO Report (footnote a) states that the Report only includes funding in the Midcourse Defense program element and does not include “funding for other support activities that are contained in other program elements.”

[4] MDA’s planned budget can be found on pages 2a-xxi to 2a-xxiv of

[5] This is not just an FY 2019 budget anomaly, as the FY 2015-2019 five year average for the GMD Test line item is $67.4 million.

[6] Most of this other GMD testing funding is likely in the Ballistic Missile Defense Test ($413 million in FY 2019) and the Ballistic Missile Defense Targets ($429.8 in FY 2019) program elements, which are not included in the CBO GMD cost figures.

Next Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) Intercept Test Could Be as soon as June 22. (June 6, 2014)

It appears that the next intercept test for the Ground-Based Midcourse national missile defense system is planned for Sunday, June 22 between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm U.S. east coast time. The target will be launched from Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands and the interceptor from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California

On Wednesday (June 4), Reuters cited two anonymous sources that the test, designated FTG-06b, would be held on June 22.[1]

However, today (June 6), the Pacific Islands News Association reported that, according to a warning issued by the U.S. Army, the planned test time was Monday June 23 between 4:00 am and 8:00 pm. The backup dates are June 24 and 25.

These two announced dates are not inconsistent because the of the 19 hour time difference between California and Kwajalein. Thus 4:00 am to 8:00 am on the 23rd at Kwajalein corresponds to 9:00 am to 1:00 pm on the 22nd in California. MDA usually specifies the date and time of a test using the time zone of the interceptor launch location. On the other hand, the U.S. Army warning was presumably intended for the local population near the target launch location, and thus likely uses Kwajalein time.

Thus from a U.S east coast perspective, the planned interceptor launch time is Sunday June 22 between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm.

This test is the third intercept test of the new CE-II version of the GBI interceptor’s kill vehicle. The previous two CE-II intercept tests failed, although a successful flight test not using a target was successfully conducted about a year ago.

If this upcoming test is successful, MDA will likely be able to almost immediately resume production of the 14 additional GBI interceptors it plans to deploy in Alaska by the end of 2017. A failure, depending on its cause, would likely impose significant delays on any future deployments of CE-II interceptors and may make the end of 2017 deadline impossible to achieve. It is now over 41 months since the most recent CE-II intercept test attempt, which failed.

[1] Andrea Shalal, “U.S. Missile Defense Test Could Shift Timing to Add Interceptors,” Reuters.Com, June 4, 2014

First Test Launch for Aegis Ashore (May 21, 2014)

The Missile Defense Agency announced today that it had conducted its first test launch of an Aegis SM-3 missile defense interceptor from an Aegis Ashore facility similar to the one planned to be operational in Romania by the end of next year. The test, using an SM-3 Block IB version of the interceptor, was conducted at the newly completed Aegis Ashore test facility in Hawaii and was described as successful. No target missile was used, and thus there was no intercept attempt.



GAO on DoD’s GMD Testing Options Report (May 1, 2014)


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) yesterday (April 30, 2014) released a Report assessing a Department of Defense (DoD) Report on options for the test program of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) national missile defense system. Specifically, the DoD Report, mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013, was required to:

(1) Explain GMD testing options if the forthcoming FTG-06b intercept test did not successfully demonstrate that the problem that caused the failure of the new CE-II kill vehicle in the FTG-06a test has been resolved; and

(2) Assess the feasibility, advisability, and cost effectiveness of accelerating the pace of GMD test flights.

The DoD Report was released to Congress on October 18, 2013, but does not yet appear to be publicly available (at least I haven’t seen it). Yesterday’s GAO Report is based on a briefing given by GAO to Congress on December 16, 2013.



Before discussing the GAO’s findings, some background information:

The GMD interceptors, thirty which are based in silos in Alaska and California, use two different versions of the Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV). The original Capability Enhancement 1 (CE-I) version of the EKV was flight tested five times from 2005 to 2010, three of which were intercept tests, and all of these tests were reportedly successful. However, the CE-I EKV design was not sustainable, and thus the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) began in 2004-2005 to develop a new CE-II EKV.

CE-II interceptors began deployment in 2008, and currently make up about ten of the thirty deployed interceptors. However, the CE-II interceptor was not flight tested until 2010, when two intercept tests failed. The failure of first CE-II intercept test (FTG-06) in January 2010 was subsequently assessed as being due to a quality control failure in assembling the EKV, a relatively easily correctable problem. However, the second failure, FTG-06a in December 2010, posed a much more serious problem, since it was eventually determined to be due a design flaw in the kill vehicle. Specifically, the problem was attributed to excessive vibrations in the kill vehicle’s inertial measurement unit caused by the kill vehicle’s divert rocket motors, which are used to steer the kill vehicle towards its target.

As a result of the FTG-06a failure, deliveries of CE-II interceptors were suspended until a solution to this problem was demonstrated through a successful CE-II intercept test. In addition particular, deliveries of the fourteen additional interceptors announced in March 2013 cannot begin until after such a successful CE-II intercept test. Determining the cause of and developing a fix for the FTG-06a problem has been complex and difficult, and this problem has so far delayed successfully demonstrating a CE-II capability by more than three years and significantly increased the cost of doing so.[1] In January 2014, MDA conducted a successful flight (not intercept) test of CE-II interceptor with mitigations for the FTG-06a problem and could conduct a CE-II intercept test (FTG-06b) as early as the third quarter of FY 2014.

However, the CE-II testing situation is further complicated by the failure of the FTG-07 intercept test in July 2013. This test, using a CE-I interceptor, was intended to test the many changes that have been made to the CE-I kill vehicles since they have been deployed. Although the failure review for this test is still ongoing, the failure has been traced to the CE-I kill vehicle’s battery system.[2] Because the battery system is the same in both the CE-I and CE-II kill vehicles, it is possible that FTG-06b will be further delayed until this problem is fully resolved.

Overall, since MDA began flight testing operationally-configured GMD interceptors in 2005, it has conducted ten GMD flight tests, seven of which involved an intercept attempt. Thus the GMD system has been averaging about 1 GMD flight test per year but only about 0.7 intercept tests per year. Some in Congress have been urging MDA to increase this rate of testing, and, in particular, to increase to it to an average pace of 3 flight tests every two years. As discussed in my post of December 24, 2012, MDA has been opposed to increasing the pace of flight tests beyond the current average of one per year.


What did the GAO conclude?

(1) The GAO Report states that the DOD Report provides “limited insight on potential testing options” if the upcoming FTG-06b CE-II intercept test fails. The GAO Report noted that DoD Report presented only one alternative testing option – the development of new divert thrusters that produce less vibration. (By attempting to reduce the vibrations at their source, this approach is complimentary to the one being taken in the FTG-06b test, which instead attempts to isolate the inertial measurement unit from the vibrations). While the GAO characterizes this option as “reasonable,” it states the DoD Report provides few details on how or when such new divert thrusters could be developed and tested, on the cost, benefits and risks of this option, or of its impact on both currently deployed and future production interceptors.

The GAO also noted that prior to the failure of the FTG-07 CE-I test in July 2013, DoD also had testing options involving CE-I interceptors available to address the CE-II test failures. However, the GAO stated the FTG-07 failure precluded MDA from employing these options until the root cause of that failure is both identified and resolved.

(2) It has previously been reported that the DoD Report had concluded that an increase in GMD flight test pacing to three tests every two years was not feasible. (See my post of February 13, 2014.) The GAO Report provides more details on this issue. Specifically it states that the DoD Report says that “With additional funding, it should be possible to accelerate GMD’s testing pace to three flight tests every two years beginning in fiscal year 2018.” However, the GAO Report then goes on to state that it defines “feasibility” as “the extent to which something is both possible and likely to occur,” and that it judges that it is ”not likely” that the pace of testing could be accelerated. According the GAO, the DoD Report also provides no information on either the advisability or cost effectiveness of accelerating the testing pace. (However, it is clear from previous statements by MDA and DoD officials that they do not regard an acceleration of testing as either advisable or cost effective – see my post of December 24, 2012).


[1] The GAO Report states that the total cost of conducting a successful CE-II intercept test had now risen from $1.17 billion (as of August 2012) to $1.31 billion (as of June 2013), primarily due to increased failure review costs. Prior to the failure of FTG-06 in January 2010, this cost had been expected to be about $236 million.

[2] John Liang, “DoD: Faulty Battery Caused July 2013 GMD Intercept Failure,” Inside the Pentagon, April 3, 2014.

First Deployment of SM-3 Block IB Interceptors (April 29, 2014)

The United States has begun deployment of the its new SM-3 IB ballistic missile interceptor on U.S. Navy ships, according to an April 23 press release by Raytheon, the missile’s manufacturer.

The SM-3 Block IB interceptor uses the same propulsion system and missile airframe as the currently deployed Block IA version, but has a new kill vehicle with an enhanced infrared seeker, a faster processor and an improved divert and attitude control system. It has a two-color infrared sensor in its seeker (the sensor in the Block IA version uses only a single color) intended to provide increased discrimination capabilities. The new seeker also has improved sensitivity, giving it a greater detection range, and thus allowing engagement of longer-range targets.   In addition, the Block IB kill vehicle also has a new, faster Advanced Signal Processor that “increases data processing capability to sort-out and analyze the information gathered by the upgraded seeker.”[1]

The Block IB kill vehicle also has a new, “more flexible” throttleable divert and attitude control system (TDACS), which improves its divert capabilities.[2] According to reports, the TDACS is able “to dynamically vary its thrust and operating time” and provides higher thrust levels using continuous thrust management to give a greater divert capability than does Block IA kill vehicle.[3]

Although the Raytheon press release did not state which ship(s) the new interceptors were being deployed on, it did describe the deployment as “initiating the second phase of the Phased Adaptive Approach,” suggesting that at least some of them were on forward-deployed Aegis BMD ships in the Mediterranean or even on European-based ships. At present, the U.S Navy only has one Aegis BMD ship based in Europe, the destroyer Donald Cook, which is homeported at Rota, Spain. The number of U.S. Aegis BMD ships based at Rota is planned to increase to four by the end of 2015. (For comparison, there are already five U.S. Aegis BMD ships homeported at Yokusuka in Japan and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced earlier this month that this number would be increased to seven by the end of 2017.)


[1] MDA, “FTM-18 Fact Sheet” June 22, 2012. Available at:

[2] MDA, “Second-Generation Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System Completes Successful Intercept Flight Test,” News Release, May 9, 2012.

[3] Zachary M. Peterson, “Raytheon, ATK Hope To Start Advanced SDACS Flight Tests This Year,” Inside Missile Defense, August 30, 2006; “Raytheon and Aerojet demonstrate SM-3 Throttling Divert and Attitude Control System,” PR Newswire US, August 15, 2006.

RAND Report on Countermeasures Proliferation (February 28, 2014)

RAND has just released a report on ballistic missile countermeasure technologies.  The Report: “Penaid Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of Countermeasures Against Ballistic Missile Defenses” by Richard H Speier, K. Scott McMahon, and George Macouziis is primarily about using the Missile Technology Control Regime to attempt to limit the spread of countermeasures technology, it also has a number of interesting figures illustrating countermeasures approaches. The Report is available at:

When Is a Missile Defense “Hit” a “Kill”? MDA Says It’s Classified. (February 14, 2014)

The full transcript of the House Armed Services Committee’s May 8, 2013 hearing on ballistic missile defenses was posted by the Government Printing Office this week.  The responses to written questions from the Committee members contain some interesting new (to me, at least) information:

(1) The distinction between a “hit” and a “kill” now seems to be classified, at least for the Ground-Based Midcourse System’s GBI hit-to-kill interceptors.  (For background on this point, including the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation’s assessment that he scored the successful FTG-02 intercept test as a ‘hit” but not a “kill”, see my post of October 18, 2012.)  From the transcript, here are questions to MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring:

Mr. COOPER. 16) In tests of the GBI, is a ‘‘hit’’ considered a ‘‘kill’’? Are there any successful intercept tests where a hit would have not equated to a kill of the target?  How do these assumptions impact the reliability of the GMD system?

 Admiral SYRING. [The information referred to is classified and retained in the committee files.]


(2) Some other things that are now apparently classified:

            (a) Whether or not Aegis SM-3 Block IA and IB interceptors deployed on U.S. territory could intercept missiles from Iran. (p. 81) (Comment: MDA has not never stated (as far as I know) that the Block I interceptors were effective against ICBMs, although one has been used to shoot down a satellite.)

            (b) Whether or not Aegis ships or Aegis Ashore are being considered for defense of the U.S. East Coast. (pp. 83 and 84) (Comment: MDA has previously said that all options were under consideration.)

            (c) How the number (fourteen) of additional GBI interceptors to be deployed by 2017 was determined. (p. 83)  (Comment: Probably the fact that there were fourteen additional silos available had something to do with the decision.)

(3) The MDA is developing a new, upgraded version of the CE-II GBI, to be called the CE-II Block I GBI.  (Its full name is apparently “Common Booster Avionics and Obsolescence Design (CBAU/CE-II Block I”).  It is currently scheduled for a first intercept test in FY 2016 and the fourteen additional GBIs announced in March 2013 will be of this type. (p. 87).   (Correction, February 17: changed this point to reflect that the 14 new Block I GBIs will not be the ones deployed by FY 2017 but instead the ones purchased beginning in 2016, and removed point about “fly before you buy”)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

(4) The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) statement that: “We assess that countries developing ballistic missiles,” including North Korea and Iran, “would also develop various responses to U.S. theater and national defenses … by the time they flight test their missiles,” is also MDA’s current assessment of the missile threat. This was confirmed by Madelyn Creedon, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, by MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring, and by Michael Gilmore, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. (pp. 83-84, 85-86, 88)



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