Updated list of launch times for GMD Intercept Tests (August 10, 2015)

This post updates my post of June 3, 2013 by adding FTG-07 and FTG-06b.  The table shows that MDA has still not conducted a GMD intercept test in which the target was not illuminated by the Sun.


Location Key:  VN = Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

KD = Kodiak, Alaska

KW = Kwajalein Atoll.

All times are local (either standard or daylight savings, whichever is in effect).

Kodiak is four hours behind east coast time.

Kwajalein does not use daylight saving time and is 17 hours ahead of EST and 16 ahead of EDT.

The table shows the launch locations and times (extracted from MDA press releases and news reports) for the seventeen intercept tests of both prototype and operationally-configured GMD ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs).    Data for intercepts claimed as successful are in black and data in red is for failed intercept attempts.  As the table shows, the latest interceptor launch time for a successful intercept is 3:19 pm local time (IFT-7).  Taking into account the relative time and location of the target and interceptor launches, it is clear that all the successful intercept attempts took place with the target directly illuminated by the Sun.

There is one intercept attempt that clearly took place at night (IFT-10), in which the interceptor was launched at about 8:45 pm local time and in a direction generally heading away from the Sun.  However, the intercept attempt failed when the kill vehicle failed to separate from the final booster stage.

Two other intercept attempts were conducted in which the interceptor launch would have occurred shortly before local sunset, IFT-13c and IFT-14.  However, in both these cases, the interceptor failed to launch.  Without knowing where the intercepts were planned to take place (and I haven’t tried to find out),one cannot be certain if the targets would have been sunlit, but give the targets’ launch locations (Kodiak) and typical intercept altitudes (250 km) in earlier tests, it seem likely they would have been.

Updated Table of Radar Participation in GMD Intercept Tests Using Operationally-Configured Interceptors. (August 3, 2015)

–The PAVE PAWS radars in AK and MA are not yet part of the GMD system.

–Because of its location and orientation, Cobra Dane has never participated in a GMD intercept test.

–The BMEWS radars in Greenland and Britain are unable to observe GMD intercept tests.

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Aegis Ashore vs THAAD (July 27, 2015)

In a comment to my post of July 16 about the THAAD deployment in Guam being made permanent, a question was raised about why THAAD was proposed for South Korea and Aegis Ashore for Romania and Poland (and why not vice versa).

There are two main technical issues that almost certainly drove the decision of which system went where:

(1) Europe can be almost completely covered by two Aegis Ashore sites but achieving similar coverage with THAAD would require a prohibitive number of THAAD batteries.  On the other hand, S. Korea is small enough to be covered by one or two THAAD batteries.

A single Aegis Ashore site (with the Block IIA interceptor) can cover a much larger geographical area than a single THAAD deployment.  The Block IIA interceptor is scheduled to begin deployment in 2018.  This larger coverage area occurs because the Aegis Block II interceptor has a much higher burnout speed (likely about 4.5 km/s) than a THAAD interceptor (likely about 2.6-2.8 km/s) and thus can reach out to make intercepts at much greater ranges.

This is illustrated in two 2007 Missile Defense Agency Briefing slides.  The yellow “footprints” in Figure 1 below shows the area that could be covered by three THAAD batteries in eastern Turkey against Iranian ballistic missiles.  For THAAD, this situation — in which the attacking missiles are launched from a country bordering the country targeted – is closely analogous to the North Korea-South Korea situation.  However, the three THAAD batteries together cover only a small fraction of Turkey.


Figure 1.  Coverage of Europe against Iranian ballistic missile by THAAD, Aegis (Block IB), and two-stage GBI interceptors.  Slides from MDA Executive Director Patricia Sanders, “Missile Defense Program Overview For The 4th International Conference On Missile Defense,” June 26, 2007.  Available at: https://mostlymissiledefense.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/bmd-overview-sanders-june2007.pdf

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THAAD Battery to be Permanently Deployed in Guam (July 16, 2015)

The U.S. Army has announced plans to make the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in Guam permanent. This would be the first permanent deployment of a THAAD battery outside the continental United States.  The Army has released a fact sheet and draft environmental assessment about the proposed permanent basing and has already held two public meetings in Guam about it.

The THAAD battery was first deployed to Guam on an “expeditionary” basis in April 2013, following North Korean threats to the Island.  The Google Earth image below shows the initial deployment of the THAAD battery’s TPY-2 radar and other equipment. (A THAAD battery consists of a TPY-2 X-band radar and associated equipment, a command and communications unit, and a number of truck-mounted launchers (typically as many as six) each of which can carry eight THAAD interceptors.)


The picture above, from February 2014, shows the original (“expeditionary”) deployment of the THAAD TPY-2 radar on Guam.  The radar equipment is at the top of the image, just left of center.  The antenna unit is the thinner object at the top.  Immediately behind it is the electronic equipment unit.  Perpendicular to and to the right of the electronic equipment unit is the cooling unit.  Perpendicular to and to the right of the cooling units are two electrical power units.  One or more of the three objects behind the power units may be additional THAAD equipment (truck-mounted missile launchers or the command and communications unit). Google Earth image, February 4, 2014.

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First Aegis Ashore Intercept Test Aborted. Does this Raise Issues for Planned 2015 Deployment Date for the Romanian Aegis Ashore Site? (June 27, 2015)

On Friday (June 26) it was reported that MDA had aborted an intercept test of the Aegis Ashore system following a failure of the target missile.  Although not stated by MDA, the aborted test was apparently the one designated FTO-02 Event 1 (FTO-02 E1). According to the March 2015 prepared statement by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, J. Michael Gilmore, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, FTO-02 E1 was to “…provide critical data needed for my assessment of Aegis Ashore’s capability to defend Europe as part of the President’s European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).


FTO-02 E1 Mission Patch. Available at http://missile.bigcartel.com/product/fto-02-e1-patch, but it’s sold out.

Background on Aegis Ashore Testing

Under President Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach, Aegis Ashore sites were to become operational in Romania in 2015 and in Poland In 2018. The initial plan (2010) was that these two European deployments would be supported by a series of seven Aegis Ashore flight tests, including five intercept tests, conducted at the Aegis Ashore Test facility in Kauai Hawaii. According to that plan, shown schematically in the GAO figure below, all of these tests would have been completed by the end of 2015, paving the way for the activation of the Romanian Aegis Ashore site that same year.

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Updated List of Claims about GMD Effectiveness (June 16, 2015)

This is an updated list (previous version was January 16, 2014) of claims by U.S. government officials about the effectiveness of the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system. It adds four additional claims (#29, #30, #31, and #32).

(1) September 1, 2000: “… I simply cannot conclude, with the information I have today, that we have enough confidence in the technology and the operational effectiveness of the entire NMD system to move forward to deployment. Therefore, I have decided not to authorize deployment of a national missile defense at this time.” President Bill Clinton, at Georgetown University, September 1, 2000.

(2) March 18, 2003:Effectiveness is in the 90% range.[1]   Edward Aldridge, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

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Saudi Arabia Shoots Down a Scud? June 6, 2015.

Saudi Arabia is claiming that it used two Patriot missiles to shoot down a Scud ballistic missile launched from Yemen early in the morning of June 6. The Patriot battery was likely located at the King Khalid Air Force Base, which is about 100 km from the nearest point in Yemen. It seems likely that either the Airbase or the nearby city of Khamis Mushait was target of the attack. If this report is correct (and this seems like a very big if), I believe this would make Saudi Arabia only the second or third country to claim to have shot down a ballistic missile with a range as long as a Scud (a baseline Scud has a range of about 300 km) in an actual attack, and possibly the only one to actually successfully do so.

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Can the GMD System Defend Against a Chinese Attack? Three Answers (sort of). June 5, 2015.

The most interesting information to come out of a Congressional Hearing sometimes is contained in the responses to written questions submitted by members of the Congressional Committee.  Usually you have to wait until the full hearing is printed up by the Government Printing Office to see these questions and answers but frequently the answers are worth waiting for.  Here’s one example from the March 25, 2014 House Armed Services Committee Hearing on Ballistic Missile Defense, in which Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chair Representative Mike Rogers asks three witnesses whether or not the U.S. national missile defense system could defend the United States against a (accidental or unauthorized) Chinese ballistic missile attack.  To summarize their responses: (1) It’s classified; (2) It’s complicated (and classified); and (3) No, it’s not technically financially feasible to defeat a full-scale Chinese attack, but the defense would be employed to defend against a limited attack from China (or from anywhere else).

The three witnesses were Vice Admiral James Syring, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, Lieutenant General David L. Mann, Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, U.S. Strategic Command, and Elaine M. Bunn, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy.

Representative Rogers asked Admiral Syring and General Mann, “The National Missile Defense Policy Act of 1999 requires that we deploy national missile defenses capable of defending the United States from ‘‘accidental or unauthorized’’ ballistic missile attack, among other attacks. Can you please tell me, are we protected from an accidental or unauthorized ballistic missile attack from a Chinese ballistic missile submarine, which, as you know, the Chinese are now deploying? If not, when will we?” (Another way to view these questions is: “When will be able to defend ourselves against the most survivable portion of China’s nuclear deterrent?)

Admiral Syring’s response is printed as: “The information referred to is classified and is retained in the committee files.”

General Mann’s response is somewhat more expansive, but still ultimately relies on classification: “It is difficult to provide a specific assessment. The Ballistic Missile Defense System is not designed to counter peer or near-peer ballistic missile threats. The level of residual capability to defend against such an incident would be influenced by the degree of indications and warnings, the location of the launch and target impact area, and the accessibility of sensors and interceptors. Upon request, further details could be provided via a classified session or paper.”

Representative Rogers asked Secretary Bunn a somewhat different question: “From a policy perspective, can you please help me understand why we deploy missile defenses to protect our aircraft carriers from Chinese ballistic missiles but we do not deploy missile defenses to protect our cities from Chinese nuclear missiles?”

Her response: “We have the capability to protect our aircraft carriers from ballistic missiles in order to ensure freedom of action and the ability to project power around the globe to protect U.S. interests. The DOD is committed to ensuring defense of the U.S. homeland against limited long-range missile attacks from countries such as North Korea and Iran. With regard to China and Russia, our homeland missile defenses are not designed to counter their advanced long-range missile capabilities because defending against the quantity and quality of their ICBMs would be technologically impractical and cost prohibitive. We remain confident that Chinese and Russian ballistic missile attacks on the U.S. homeland are deterred by other means. Despite not being capable of coping with large-scale Chinese or Russian missile attacks, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system would be employed to defend the United States against limited missile launches from any source.”

Updated BMD Overview and GMD Presentations (May 27, 2015)

This post updates my post of  June 26, 2013, in which I collected together a number of the publicly available MDA Overview  and GMD System type briefings by MDA or other military/government officials (if you have one I missed, please send it to me).  Thanks to Laura Grego at the Union of Concerned Scientists for obtaining the Todorov slides and most recent Syring briefing (one by FOIA, the other just by asking MDA).

MDA Deputy Director Brigadier General Kenneth Todorov, April 2015: Todorov-CSIS-April72015

MDA Program Executive for Advanced Technology Richard Matlock: SMDC2014–Matlock-Adv-Tech

MDA Director Vice Admiral J. D. Syring, August 13, 2014: Slides: SyringAugust2014SMDC-Slides  Transcript: SyringAugust2014SMDCtranscript

MDA Director Vice Admiral J. D. Syring, August 2013: SyringAugust2013SMDC

MDA Program Executive for Advanced Technology Richard Matlock, August 2013: 2013-08-15-Matlock-AdvancedTechnology

MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring, February 2013: BMD-Update-Syring-February2013

MDA Deputy Director Rear Admiral Randall M. Hendrickson, August 14, 2012: BMD-Update-Hendrickson-August 2012

“U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense,” Moscow, May 2012: US-BMD-Moscow-May2012

MDA Director Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, March 2012: BMD-Update-O’Reilly-March 2012

MDA Director Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, August 2011: BMD-Overview-O’Reilly-August2011

MDA Director Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, September 2009: BMD-Overview-O’Reilly-September2009

MDA Director Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, May 2009: BMD-Update-O’Reilly-May 2009

MDA Director Lt. General Trey Obering, May 2008: OberingMay2008NDIA

MDA Executive Director Dr. Patricia Sanders, June 2007: BMD-Overview-Sanders-June2007

MDA Director Lt. General Trey Obering, March 2007: BMD-Overview-Obering-March 2007

MDA Deputy Director Brigadier General Patrick O’Reilly, January 2007: BMD-Overview-O’Reilly- January 2007

What Is a Robust National Missile Defense Capability? (May 20, 2015)

In looking back at a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from last July, I was struck by its statement that, as part of its Ground Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) planned “to deliver a robust defense capability in 2019.”[1]  I hadn’t noticed such a statement before, and it immediately raised two questions: In the context of the GMD system, what does a “robust defense capability” mean?  And what happens in 2019 to mark the “delivery” of this robust capability?  As discussed below, I have been unable to uncover an answer to either question, so if anyone knows the answers, I would be interested in hearing from them.

The GAO Report itself does not answer these questions.  All it says is that in order to reach 44 operationally deployed interceptors by 2017 and to deliver this robust capability by 2019, “many concurrent efforts must be completed including successful testing, restarting CE-II production, and developing and acquiring interceptors with new components.”  However, all of these steps are necessary to achieve the 44 deployed interceptors by 2017 alone.

The word “robust” is often used in discussions of missile defenses, frequently in the context of steps that are said to make defenses “more robust.”  It is much rarer to see the word used to denote a specific capability of a defense system, and in particular when that system is the GMD system.  But I have found two examples, both from 2011.

In March 2011, then MDA Director Lt. General O’Reilly, speaking in the context of both the GMD systems and regional defenses, told Congress that: “Our objective is to a field a robust missile defense by providing at least two intercept opportunities, by two or more different interceptor systems, against every threat missile in flight by the end of this decade.”[2]

The MDA’s 2011 Program Update, in a section headlined Developing the BMDS Over the Next Decade: Robust Homeland Defense Against Limited Attack, similarly stated that: “By the end of the decade, we will have in place a two-layered ICBM defense consisting of the GMD system. BMDS sensor network, and the Aegis system with the SM-3 IIB to provide multiple intercept opportunities of potential ICBMs targeting the United States by current regional threats.”

These two statements seem to be clearly defining a robust defense as one that provides multiple intercept opportunties by at least two different types of interceptors, specifically the GMD system’s GBI interceptors and the Eurpean Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA)’s SM-3 IIB interceptors.  The apparent idea here is that not only does having two different types of interceptors in two different locations provide more possible intercept opportunities, thus reducing the risk of a failure due to reliability issues, but also that the different nature of the two interceptors (and the different parts of the target’s trajectory at which they attempt to intercept) might allow one type of interceptor to succeed even if the other type failed (for example, due to an unexpected countermeasure).  The latter argument does not seem very convincing in this case, as both types of interceptors work in basically the same way.  In any event, the SM-3 IIB was cancelled in 2013.  While GMD system can still make multiple intercept attempts, they would all use GBIs with very similar kill vehicles (and all the intercept attempts would occur in roughly the second half of the target’s trajectory).

More recently, in his presentation to the 2014 Space and Missile Defense Conference, MDA Director Admiral J.D. Syring showed a slide with the title: Robust Homeland Defense (2020-2025 Timeframe).  This slide shows a number of planned GMD improvements that are planned for 2016 onwards.  Thus this slide appears to be arguing that the GMD system will gradually become more robust as capability enhancements are made rather than indicating that a specific defined “robust defense capability” will be achieved at some point between 2020 and 2025.


Is there anything planned for 2019 that could significantly enhance the GMD’s systems capabilities?  The slide “Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Fielding” also shown by Admiral Syring at the 2014 SMDC Conference, does not show any new GMD capability being deployed in 2019.

GMD PlannedFielding

As far as I can tell, the most significant events currently planned for the GMD system in 2019 are two tests:

— The first intercept test for the new Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV).

— The first intercept test using the two-stage GBI booster.

The year 2020 could see a number of new capabilities added to the GMD system, such as the deployment of the Long-Range Discrimination Radar, and the possible first deployment of both the RKV and the two-stage version of the GBI.  However, there does not seem to be anything happening in, or even by, 2019 that would justify labeling the GMD system’s capability as robust.


[1] Government Accountability Office, “Missile Defense: MDA Report Provides Limited Insight on Improvements to Homeland Missile Defense and Acquisition Plans,” GAO-14-626R, July 17, 2014, p. 4.

[2] Lieutenant General Patrick J. O’Reilly, House Armed Services Committee, Strategic Forces Subcommittee, March 31, 2011.


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