THAAD Radar Ranges (July 17, 2018)

A central element of the debate surrounding the recent decision by South Korea to allow the United States to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system on its territory is the range of the THAAD’s radar. China argues that the THAAD radar will be able to look deep into its territory; supporters of the deployment counter that the radar will be configured so that its range will be limited.

The radar used with a THAAD battery is the X-band AN/TPY-2.  The TPY-2 radar has two configurations.  It can be configured as Terminal Mode (TM) radar, in which it operates as the fire control radar for a THAAD battery.  Alternatively, it can be set up as a Forward-Based Mode (FBM) radar, in which it relays tracking and discrimination data to a remote missile defense system, such as the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) system.  If THAAD is deployed to South Korea, The United States has stated that its TPY-2 radar would be in the shorter-range TM configuration.  Since in the TM mode, the radar reportedly only has a range of 600 km, supporters of the THAAD deployment argue that while its range is adequate to cover N. Korea, it cannot look deeply into China.  Critics of this argument point out that in the FBM mode the radar has a much greater range, and that the radar can be converted from TM to FBM (or vice versa) in only eight hours or less.  According to a U.S. Army manual, “The hardware used by the two modes is identical, but their controlling software, operating logic, and communications package are different.”[1]  In addition the radar is highly mobile: it can be transported by air and can be operational with four hours of reaching its deployment site.

Published figures for the range of a TPY-2 radar vary by nearly a factor of five.  For a radar, this is a huge discrepancy.  If all these published ranges were for the same target and same radar operating parameters, they would indicate a difference in radar capability of about 54 = 625.  So clearly these claims must reflect very different assumptions about how the radar is used.

To provide a sense of how the range is affected by how the radar is operated, I will step through various claims about the TPY-2’s range, from lowest to highest.  Comparing these claims is complicated by the fact that many of them are not accompanied by much information on the conditions under which the range is achieved.  Nevertheless, the comparison shows that the widely varying ranges are self-consistent once differences in how the radar is operated and the nature of the target are taken into account.  At the same time, it also shows how claims about the radar’s range can be misleading if applied in the wrong context.

(1) Several hundred miles.  The shortest range claim I have seen is from the TPY-2’s manufacturer, the Raytheon Company, and is that a TPY-2 radar could “…track a home run from a ball park from several hundred miles away.”[2]  If we take several hundred to mean three hundred, then this range is about 480 km. [The home run would have to be hit very high – over 17,500 feet – to rise over the horizon at this range.]  A reflective sphere the size of a baseball (diameter = 2.9 inches) has a radar cross section (RCS) of about 0.004 m2.  While this RCS certainly possible, it is lower than is usually used for a baseline number.  If we scale to a radar cross section of 0.01 m2, we get a range of about 600 km.  This range is consistent with the terminal mode range cited in South Korean press reports.

(2) 600 km. This is the range cited in South Korean press reports for the range of the TPY-2 in the terminal mode.  In February 2015, the Chosun Ilbo cited a government official as saying the TM configuration had an effective range of 600 km.[3]  In April 2015, the Seoul Shinmum (in Korean) gave this range for the TM radar, citing a U.S. technical report.[4]

(3) 870 km.  This is the range estimate given in a post in this blog from September 21, 2012 (by George Lewis and Theodore Postol).  I will use this post as the baseline for the discussion because it contains values for of all the parameters used in the radar range calculation.  The link is:

(4) 1,500 km.  A figure in the 2013 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report show a tracking range curve with radii of about 1,500 km for the TPY-2 radar.[5]  The NAS panel has stated that this 1,500 km range is conservative.[6]

(5) Greater than 1,732 km.  The NAS panel says a range of 1,732 km would be obtained using the Lewis and Postol parameters in point (3) except with the required S/N reduced from 20 to 12.4 and the dwell time increased from 0.1 s to 1.0 s.[7] They further say that if the actual classified values of the other parameters were used instead of the values in (3), the range would be even greater.

(6) 1,800-2,000 km.  The ranges given in the South Korean Press for the forward-based configuration of the TPY-2 radar (same sources as in item (2) above).

(7) Greater than 2,900 km. In 2008, Major General Patrick O’Reilly (then the Deputy Director of the MDA) stated that the TPY-2 had a range “greater than 1,800 miles” (1,800 miles = 2,900 km).[8]

(8) 3,000 km.  This range is shown in a figure published in the South Korean newspaper, based on a calculation by George Lewis and Theodore Postol.[9]  The figure is reproduced as Figure 1 below.

TPY-2LongRange Track

Figure 1. TPY-2 tracking geometries for a radar in South Korea for a launch point in China. 

How is such a wide span of ranges possible?   Because of different assumptions regarding the operating mode of the radar and the nature of the target.

Start with the 870 km range in point (3) as a baseline.  The key assumptions and parameters here are: a warhead target with a radar cross section (RCS) of 0.01 square meters; a radar dwell time (the amount of time the radar spends on each beam position) for each target of 0.1 seconds; and  a signal to noise (S/N) ratio for detection of S/N = 20.[10]  This result indicates that the radar could track 10 incoming targets at a range of 870 km making one measurement on each target every second, or alternatively 100 targets with a measurement every ten seconds.[11]  The assumption of 0.1 second for the dwell time is somewhat arbitrary and does not necessarily match what is used in the actual TM and FBM configurations (which is classified).

Now consider the ranges in points (1) and (2) above.  These clearly correlate to the terminal mode configuration of the radar, with a nominal range of 600 km.  Is this short-range range reasonable?  In the terminal mode, the targets will be either individual warheads or entire missiles descending toward their impact points (although in some cases, targets might be detected before they reach the peak of their trajectories).  Unless the targets are tumbling, then they will generally be viewed in close to a nose-on geometry, so that their RCS will likely be relatively low.   Thus the 0.01 square meter RCS assumed in the baseline seems appropriate, although it could be lower.  In this mode, operating as a fire control radar for a THAAD battery, the radar might have to deal with dozens or even a hundred or more simultaneous targets.  In addition the radar will also be required to carry out continuous surveillance (search) for new targets. Thus it would not be surprising that the range in this mode would be less than the estimate in (3), and 600 km seems plausible.

Now let’s look at the 1,500 and 1,732+ km ranges drawn from the NAS report in points (4) and (5).  The radar and target parameters used in the NAS report are classified.  However, from the discussion of point (5), it is apparent that most of the difference in range relative to the 870 km range in point (3) is due to a longer dwell time – in the case of the 1,732+ range a factor of ten increase in dwell time per target – which gives as factor of 1.78 times increase in range.  That is, the increase in range is obtained at the price of a ten-fold decrease in the number of targets that can be tracked or a ten-fold increase in the time between measurements on each target (or some combination of the two).  As with (3), these ranges do not take into account a requirement for the  the radar to conduct surveillance for new targets (for example, if the radar was receiving precise cues to new targets from other sensors so that surveillance was not necessary).

This longer dwell time per target might be similar to what the TPY-2 radar uses in its forward-based mode to get the 1,800-2,000 in point (6) above. In the forward-based mode, the radar is primarily focused on tracking smaller numbers of longer-range missile early in their flights and at longer ranges.  However, it seems likely that in the FBM mode the radar also has surveillance requirements, which would suggest a shorter range.  On the other hand, the description of the FBM configuration radar by both the MDA and its manufacturer emphasize that it is intended to track missiles during their boost phase.  At the TPY-2’s X-band frequency (approximately 10 GHz), the upper stages of ballistic missiles would be expected to have much larger radar cross sections than separated warheads.  For example, the 2003 American Physical Society Boost Phase Study used a radar cross section of 0.094 square meters for a solid-fuel missile as it rises over the horizon of a TPY-2 radar (and 0.45 square meters for a liquid-fuel missile). [12]  If such large radar cross sections are assumed (9.4 to 45 times larger than the 0.01 square meters assumed in point (3) for a warhead), ranges of 1,800 to 2,000 km could be achieved with dwell times less than those in used for the NAS’s ranges in points (4) and (5) even if the radar devoted half of its time to surveillance.

Finally, if one combines a boost phase tracking assumption (target radar cross section  =  0.1 square meters) with longer dwell times (0.1 s) and no surveillance requirement, ranges as great as the 2,900+  km cited by General  O’Reilly in (7) or the 3,000 km figure from Lewis and Postol in (8) are obtained.

The above discussion shows that while the United States’ argument that THAAD’s range while operating in its intended terminal mode is very limited is plausible, so is the Chinese claim that the radar is physically capable of observing missile flights deep within its territory.  While China would surely be able to monitor which mode the radar is operating in, there does not appear to be any technical or legal barrier to prevent it from being quickly converted from terminal to forward-based mode.


[1] Quotation from: Park Hyun, “Pentagon Document Confirms THAAD’s Eight-Hour Conversion Time,” June 3, 2015.  Available at:

[2] Raytheon Company, “Sharp Eyes for Missile Defense – Bus-size Radar Rolls Like a Truck, Sees Like a Hawk,” August 26, 2015,  Available at:

[3] “U.S. Seeks Compromise Over Missile Defense System,” The Chosun Ilbo (English Edition), February 24, 2015.  Available at:

[4] Cited in: “News Analysis: U.S. Defense Chief’s Visit to Seoul Adds Controversy to THAAD Deployment,”, April 9, 2015.

[5] National Research Council, Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and System for U.S. Boost Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2012), p. 115.  Available at:

[6] Letter sent to Congress by Members of NAS Panel, “Setting the Record Straight – NRC Study Entitled “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense,”” January 11, 2013 (including David Barton, “Attachment 1 – A Brief Rebuttal to Lewis and Postol Radar Claims,” (dated December 31, 2012)).

[7] NAS Panel, “Setting the Record Straight.”

[8] Alan Suderman, “Radar Array Placed in Juneau,”, June 1, 2008.

[9] Park Hyun, “An/TPY-2 Radar Could Track any Chinese ICBMs as They Pass Over the Korean Peninsula,” The Hank Yoreh (English Edition), June 2, 2015. Available at:

[10] The other parameters are radar average power = 81,000 W, antenna aperture = 9.2 square meters, antenna gain = 103,000, radar system temperature = 400 K, radar system losses = 6.3.

[11] This also assumes a different beam position is needed for each target.

[12] Report of the American Physical Society Study Group on Boost-Phase Intercept Systems for National Missile Defense, July 2003, Vol. 2., p. 177.  Available at:

THAAD Flight and Intercept Tests Since 2005 (July 10, 2016)

Flight tests of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system since developmental testing resumed in 2005 and planned future tests.


Figure 1. THAAD intercept tests since 2005. In April 2012, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation stated that “due to budget constraints within the agency, MDA had decided to slow the pace of THAAD testing to about one test every eighteen months.[1] 

FTT-01 (November 22, 2005:  First launch of an operationally-configured THAAD interceptor.[2]  The launch, conducted at the White Sands Test Range (WSMR), successfully demonstrated the operation of missile and kill vehicle, although no target was used and thus no intercept was attempted.  The THAAD TPY-2 radar does not appear to have participated in this test.

FTT-02 (May 11, 2006): Second flight test of operational THAAD interceptor.[3]  No actual target was used.  This was the first test to include all of the THAAD system components, including the TPY-2 radar.  The radar provided simulated target data to the THAAD fire control system.  Test was conducted at WSMR and was reported as successful.

FTT-03 (July 12, 2006):  First intercept attempt and first successful intercept using an operational interceptor.[4]  The target was a non-separating, short-range missile (a Hera missile) and the intercept took place in the high endoatmosphere.  It was an integrated system test in which the THAAD TPY-2 radar acquired and tracked the target and provided in-flight updates.  Test was conducted at WSMR.

FTT-04 (September 13, 2006): No test. This was to be an intercept test against a short-range separating target, but the target failed and was destroyed about two minutes after launch.  The target failure occurred before the THAAD interceptor could be launched, and so no interceptor launch took place.[5]  This was the last THAAD test held at WSMR.

FTT-06 (January 26, 2007): Successful intercept test of a non-separating short-range target.[6]  This was the first THAAD test conducted at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Hawaii.  The target was described as being a SCUD-Like missile and the intercept took place in the high-endoatmosphere.  This was the first test in which soldiers from a US Army unit that would eventually operate THAAD operated all of the THAAD equipment.

FTT-07 (April 5, 2007): THAAD successfully intercepted a short-range non-separating missile target at PMRF.[7]  The intercept took place at a mid-endoatmospheric altitude against a Scud-like target.  The intercept took place about two minutes after the interceptor was launched.

FTT-05 (June 26, 2007):  Non-intercept flight test at PMRF, and the lowest altitude test so far.[8]  The test was intended to test the performance of the missile and kill vehicle in the low endo-atmosphere, where greater (relative to earlier, higher-altitude tests) atmospheric dynamic pressure and heating occur.  There was no target present.   The test was reportedly successful.

FTT-08 (October 26, 2007):  A successful intercept test.[9]  This was the first exo-atmospheric intercept attempt using the operationally-configured THAAD interceptor.  The target was a short-range non-separating missile representing a Scud-like target.   The test was conducted at the PMRF in Hawaii.

FTT-09 (June 25, 2008): A successful intercept test at PMRF.[10]  The test target was a separating short-range missile launched from a C-17 aircraft.  This was the first successful intercept of a separating target.  According to the DOT&E, the target was a “simple, spin-stabilized, non-reorienting” reentry vehicle and the intercept took place in the low-endoatmosphere.[11]  (Another source describes the intercept  as taking place in the mid-endoatmosphere.[12])   The THAAD system was operated manually by soldiers using its semi-automatic mode.

FTT-10 (September 17, 2008): No test. A planned salvo intercept of two THAAD interceptors against a single target did not take place when the target missile failed.[13]  The target missile failed before either THAAD interceptor could be launched.

FTT-10a (March 18, 2009): A successful salvo intercept attempt at PMRF.[14]  Two THAAD interceptors were fired at a short-range separating target missile, with the first interceptor hitting the target warhead in the mid-endoatmosphere.  This test was a combined operational (the first for THAAD) and developmental test, and also involved an Aegis ship providing cuing information to the THAAD system.[15]

FTT-11 (December 11, 2009):  No test. Test did not occur due to the failure of the target missile motor to ignite after being dropped from a C-17 aircraft.[16]  This was to have been the first THAAD test against a “complex separating” short-range missile target.[17]  The target would have had “a relatively low infrared signature and radar cross section.”[18]  According to the DOT&E (2010 Annual Report) the objectives of this test were added to the future FTT-12 test.[19]  According to the GAO, this test’s objective of demonstrating the TPY-2 radar’s advanced discrimination capability was moved to FTT-12.[20]

FTT-14 (June 28, 2010):  Successful intercept of a short-range non-separating missile at PMRF.[21]  This test was moved forward (using a target planned for Airborne Laser testing) when target problems caused FTT-11 to fail and FTT-12 to be delayed.[22]   The intercept occurred in the low-endoatmosphere.  This was the lowest altitude intercept for THAAD so far.  According to the DOT&E, the intercept took place at “a high lead angle and in a high-dynamic-pressure environment.”[23]

FTT-12 (October 4, 2011): Two THAAD interceptors successfully intercepted two short-range missiles in “nearly simultaneous” engagements at PMRF.”[24]  This was the first operational test for THAAD.[25]  There does not appear to be any further information available on the nature of the target, but the transfer of objectives from FTT-11 suggests that at least one of the targets could have been  a separating, complex target.

FTT-13 (Cancelled):  This test, which was scheduled for 2012, would have been the first intercept test against a medium-range target.  However, the test was cancelled “because of budgetary concerns and test efficiency.”[26]  The planned target was described as “a complex separating medium range target with associated objects.[27]

Flight Test Integrated-01 (FTI-01), (October 25, 2012):[28]  This test involved Patriot, Aegis and THAAD intercept attempts against three ballistic missile and two cruise missile targets.  Although the test was labeled as an integrated test, each of the defenses basically operated independently of each other.[29]  The test was conducted at the Kwajalein Atoll test site.  In the THAAD part of this test, THAAD successfully intercepted an Extended Long-Range Air Launch Target ((E-LRALT) medium-range missile.  This was the first intercept of a medium-range missile (1,000-3,000 km range) by THAAD.  The THAAD system was cued by a second TPY-2 radar operating in a forward-based mode.

Flight Test Operational-01 (FTO-01), (September 10, 2013):[30]  An integrated, operational test involving THAAD and Aegis BMD intercepts of two medium-range missile targets.  One of the medium-range missile targets was successfully intercepted by a THAAD interceptor.  A second THAAD interceptor was salvo launched along with an Aegis SM-3 Block IA interceptor at the second medium-range target.  The Aegis interceptor was fired first and successfully destroyed the target.  Both engagements were cued by a TPY-2 radar operating in a forward-based mode.

FTT-11a (cancelled): This test was initially scheduled for 3Q FY 2013, and subsequently delayed to 3Q FY 2015.[31]  It was to be an exo-atmospheric engagement of a complex separating target short-range ballistic missile.[32]  It does not appear FY 2015 or later budget documents, and it seems likely that it was replaced by the first intercept attempt of FTO-02 E2a.

Flight Test Operational-02 Event 2 (FTO-02 E2) (No Test, then Cancelled):   An attempt to hold this test on October 4, 2015 was postponed due to bad weather.  According to one source: “Thunderstorms, heavy rain, and high winds can pose a danger to airborne sensors and can also impact data collection asset [sic].”[33]  It was subsequently assessed as a “no test” due to deployment problems with its air-launched target.  The test was replanned and conducted as FTO-02 E2a on November 1, 2015.

Flight Test Operational-02 Event 2 (FTO-02 E2) (November 1, 2015): Two intercept attempts by THAAD, both reportedly successful.[34]  The first intercept attempt was on a short-range air-launched ballistic missile.  This was likely an exo-atmospheric intercept, since it was in part intended to provide a debris field background for a subsequent Aegis SM-3 Intercept attempt. The second target was a MRBM, and both an Aegis BM-3 Block IB TU interceptor and a THAAD interceptor were fired at it.  The SM-3 interceptor failed shortly after launch, but the THAAD interceptor successfully intercepted the target.

FTT-15 (3Q, FY 2017): Endo-atmospheric intercept of a medium-range target using Aegis cuing. [35]   First test of THAAD “against a complex target scene.”[36]  Also described as “THAAD endo-intercept of a complex separating Medium-Range Ballistic (MRBM) target with Associated Objects.”[37]

FTT-18 (3Q, 2017): First THAAD test against an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM).[38]  (IRBM range = 3,000-5,500 km).  Test delayed from 4Q FY 2015 due to “testing prioritization,” even though THAAD has been deployed in Guam to counter North Korean IRBMs since April 2013.[39]

Flight Test Operational-03 E2 (FTO-03 E2) (1Q, FY 2019): Operational test.[40]

FTT-16 (3Q, 2020): Endo-atmospheric intercept of a unitary short-range missile with high reentry heating. [41]

FTT-21 (4Q, 2021):[42]

FTT-17 (delayed until after 2021 or cancelled): Intercept of a target with a range near the maximum for medium range targets.[43]  Also described as “THAAD Operational engagement of an IRBM with AOs using remote engagement (Aegis BMD) authorized.”[44]


[1] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senate Armed Committee, April 25, 2012.

[2] “Successful THAAD Interceptor Launch Achieved,” MDA News Release, November 22, 2005.

[3] “Missile Defense Interceptor Completes Successful Developmental Flight Test,” MDA News Release, May 11, 2006.

[4] “Successful Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Intercept Flight Achieved,” MDA News Release, July 12, 2006.

[5] “Target Missile Malfunction Halts THAAD Flight Test in New Mexico,” MDA News Release, September 13, 2006.

[6] “Successful Missile Defense Intercept Test Takes Place Off Hawaii,” MDA News Release, January 27, 2007.

[7] “Successful Missile Defense Intercept Test Takes Place Off Hawaii,” MDA News Release, April 6, 2007

[8] “Missile Defense Agency Conducts Successful Interceptor “Fly-Out” Test,” MDA News Release, June 27, 2007.

[9] “Successful Missile Defense Intercept Test Takes Place Near Hawaii,” MDA News Release, October 27, 2007.

[10] “Successful Missile Defense Intercept Test Takes Place Off Hawaii,” MDA News Release, June 25, 2008.

[11] Director Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), 2008 Annual Report, p. 257.

[12] Colonel William L. Lamb, “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Program, Briefing Slides, 13th Annual AUSA Tactical Missiles Conference, April 25, 2011, slide 6.

[13] “Missile Defense Test Conducted,” MDA News Release, September 17, 2008.

[14] “Successful Intercept in Missile Defense Flight Test,” MDA News Release, March 18, 2009.

[15] DOT&E, 2009 Annual Report, p. 249.

[16] Missile Defense Test Conducted,” MDA News Release, December 11, 2009.

[17] DOT&E, 2010 Annual Report,  p. 237.

[18] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Strategic Forces Subcommittee, House Armed Services Committee, April 15, 2010.

[19] DOT&E, 2010 Annual Report, p. 237.

[20] Governmental Accountability Office (GAO), GAO-11-372, p. 111.

[21] “THAAD System Intercepts Target in Successful Missile Defense Flight Test,” MDA New Release, June 29, 2010

[22] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Strategic Forces Committee, House Armed Services Committee, March 31, 2011.

[23] DOT&E, 2010 Annual Report, p . 237.

[24] “THAAD Weapon System Achieves Intercept of Two Targets at Pacific Missile Range Facility,” PR Newswire, October 5, 2011.

[25] GAO-11-372, p. 111; GAO-12-486, p.93.

[26] GAO-12-386, p. 89.

[27] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Strategic Forces Committee, House Armed Services Committee, March 31, 2011.

[28]“Ballistic Missile Defense System Engages Five Targets Simultaneously During Largest Missile Defense Test in History,” MDA News Release, October 25, 2012.

[29] Statement of DOT&E J. Michael Gilmore, Senate Armed Services Committee, May 9, 2013.

[30] “Successful Missile Defense Test Against Multiple Targets,” MDA News Release, September 10, 2013.

[31] Gilmore, 2011; Department of Defense, President’s Budget Submission (PB), Missile Defense Agency (MDA), FY 2012, RDT&E, p. 2-77; PB FY 2014, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-67

[32] PB FY 2013, MDA, RDT&E, p. 422

[33] Jason Sherman, “Bad Weather Prompts MDA to Postpone Major Operational Test,” Inside the Pentagon, October 2015.

[34] Missile Defense Agency, “Ballistic Missile Defense System Demonstrates Layered Defense While Conducting Multiple Engagements in Operational Test,” News Release, November 1, 2015; Jason Sherman, “New SM-3 Block IB Variant Fails First Flight Test,” Inside the Pentagon, November 5, 2015.

[35] Statement by J. Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senate Armed Committee, April 25, 2012; PB, FY 2014, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-66,.  Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[36] PB FY 2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-805.

[37] PB FY 2012, MDA, RDT&E, Vol. 2, p. 540.

[38] Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[39] GAO-16-339, p. 56.  Original testing date from PB FY 2015, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-113

[40] Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[41] Gilmore, 2013.  Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[42] Date of test from PB FY2017, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-813.

[43] Gilmore, 2013.

[44] PB FY 2012, MDA, RDT&E, p. 2a-138.

SM-3 Block IIA Testing Chronology (July 7, 2016)

SM-3 Block IIA Testing Chronology

SCD PTV-01 (October 2013): SM-3 Cooperative Development (SCD) Propulsion Test Vehicle (PTV)-01. A test of the Block IIA booster rocket and canister, reportedly successful, intended to demonstrate that The Block IIA could be launched from the Vertical Launching System used on U.S. Navy Aegis ships and at Aegis Ashore sites.

SCD CTV-01 (June 6, 2015): SCD Controlled Test Vehicle (CTV)-01.  First flight test of SM-3 Block IIA.  It was not an intercept test and no target was present.  The Missile Defense Agency stated that the test “successfully demonstrated flyout through nosecone deployment and third stage deployment.”[1]  According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the test was delayed by about 5 months.[2]

SCD CTV-02 (December 8, 2015):  Second flight test of SM-3 Block IIA.  It was not an intercept test and no target was present.  According to the MDA, “The missile successfully demonstrated flyout through kinetic warhead ejection.”[3]  The test was originally scheduled for the 4th quarter of FY 2015.  According to the GAO, the delay was due to “delays in hardware deliveries.”[4]

Contract Award (December 9, 2015): The Raytheon Company receives a $543 million contract to produce and deliver up to 17 SM-3 Block IIAs for testing and initial deployment.[5]

SFTM-01 (4Q, FY 2016): SCD Flight Test Standard Missile (FTM)-01.  First intercept test of SM-3 Block IIA interceptor.  This test was earlier scheduled for 3Q, FY 2016. Target will be a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM – range between 1,000 and 3,000 km).  The test will use Aegis BMD version 5.1 (the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) phase 3 version) with the baseline 9.C2 combat system (the “C” indicates an existing Aegis destroyer that has been upgraded to baseline 9, which enables it to conduct anti-air and anti-ballistic missile operations simultaneously).  This test will also be the first flight test for MDA’s new MRBM T1/T2 target missile.[6]

Cancelled Test (FY 2016)??: A May 2016 Senate report states that delays in deliveries of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors have resulted in “at least one missed flight test.”[7]  A May 2015 GAO report also indicates that there were to be two Block IIA intercepts in FY-2016 instead of the single test in this chronology.[8]

It is unclear (to me) exactly what this missing test is.  FY 2015 and earlier MDA budget documents show SFTM-1 consisting of two events – E1 and E2.  In the FY 2016 documents, only the E2 event remains, which apparently became the single SFTM-1 test in the FY 2017 budget documents and in this chronology.  However, the deleted SFTM-1 E1 event appears not to have been an intercept test but only a simulated intercept (no SM-3 to be launched) of an actual missile target.

SFTM-02 (2Q, FY2017): Second intercept test of a SM-3 Block IIA interceptor, also against a MRBM target.  Under current plans, this would be the last flight and intercept test under the U.S.-Japan SM-3 Cooperative Development Program.  This test was earlier scheduled for 1Q FY 2017.  According to the GAO, the Block IIA program has experienced “technical challenges and schedule delays, some of which are expected to continue to impact developmental efforts through 2017.”[9]

FTM-29 (1Q, FY 2018): Third intercept test of a SM-3 Block IIA interceptor.  It is intended as a launch-on-remote (using a TPY-2 radar) intercept of an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM, range 3,000-5,500) km.  According to MDA Director Vice Admiral Syring, this test “will begin [the] transition to testing the SM-3 Block IIA within the U. S. BMDS architecture with the upgraded Aegis Baseline 9 weapon system and BMD 5.1, for at sea and ashore deployment.”[10]

SM-3 Block II Deployment (4Q, FY 2018): Current plans call for the SM-3 Block IIA to be deployed at the Aegis Ashore site in Poland and on one or more Aegis destroyers homeported in Rota, Spain by the end of calendar year 2018.

FTO-03 E1 (3Q FY 2018): Flight Test Operational-03, Event 1; FTO-03 E2 (1Q, FY 2019); FTO-03 E3 (?):  In 2014, MDA Director Syring stated that these three operational tests were scheduled for the SM-3 Block IIA (to be held in 3Q FY 2018, 3Q FY 2018 and 4Q FY 2018, respectively).[11]  A May 2015 GAO report also stated that there would be three SM-3 Block IIA “operational events” in FY 2018.[12]  However, the MDA’s FY 2017 budgetary materials show a 2Q delay for FTO-03 E2 and does not list FTO-03 E3 at all.


[1] Missile Defense Agency, “U.S.-Japan Cooperative Development Project Conducts Successful Flight Test of Standard Missile-3 Block IIA,” News Release, June 6, 2015.  Online at

[2] Government Accountability Office, “Missile Defense: Ballistic Missile Defense System Testing Delays Affecting Delivery of Capabilities,” GAO-16-333R, April 28, 2016, p. 46.

[3] Missile Defense Agency, “U.S.-Japan Cooperative Development Project Conducts Successful Flight Test of Standard Missile-3 Block IIA,” News Release, December 8, 2015.  Online at

[4] GAO-16-333R, p. 46.

[5] Raytheon Company, “Raytheon receives $543 million for SM-3 Block IIA production and delivery,” News Release, December 9, 2015.  Online at

[6] Government Accountability Office, “Missile Defense: “Opportunities Exist to Reduce Acquisition Risk and Improve Reporting on System Capabilities,” GAO-15-345, May 2015, p. 68.  Online at:

[7] “…since the previous budget request, programmed costs for manufacturing of the initial SM-3 Block IIA interceptors have increased 40 percent and costs for SM-3 Block IIA development have increased 29 percent.  Further, delivery of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors has been delayed over three fiscal quarters, resulting in at least one missed flight test.”    Senate Report 114-263, May 26, 2016, p.186.

[8] GAO-15-345, p. 53.

[9] GAO-16-333R, p. 46

[10] Statement of Vice Admiral J.D. Syring, Subcommittee of Strategic Forces, House Armed Services Committee, April 14, 2016.  Online at

[11] Written response by MDA Director Vice Admiral Syring to a question from Senator Mark Udall, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senate Armed Services Committee, April 2, 2014, p. 171.  Online at

[12] GAO-15-345, p. 53.

Strategic Capabilities of SM-3 Block IIA Interceptors (June 30, 2016)

In two previous posts, I made estimated projections forward in time of the number of U.S. Navy ballistic missile defense (BMD) capable ships and the number of SM-3 BMD interceptors.[1]  These projections reached two main conclusions: (1) The number of BMD capable ships would reach the upper seventies (77) by 2040; and (2) The number of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors (including possible more advanced version of the missile) would be in the hundreds, possibly 500-600 or more, by the mid-to-late 2030s.

Several developments since those posts were written illustrate the uncertain nature of such projections.  In February 2016, it was revealed that the Navy had decided to upgrade three additional Flight IIA Aegis destroyers to the full advanced BMD capability (under the previous plan these three ships would have had no SM-3 BMD capability).[2]  In addition, it is still unclear how long the five Aegis BMD cruisers will remain in service, although this makes no difference to the longer term projections..

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Update on Future Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) Flight Tests (April 20, 2016)

An updated description of planned GMD flight tests (last update was my post of April 12, 2015) as best I can reconstruct them.  Between now and mid-2021, it appears that MDA plans five intercept and one non-intercept test of the GMD system.

FY 2017:

FTG-15 (1Q FY 2017).  This is scheduled to be the first intercept test since FTG-06b in July 2014.  It will be the first GMD intercept test against an ICBM-range target (range greater than 5,500 km).  The target will include countermeasures.  FTG-15 will  also will be the first flight and intercept test of the new production CE-II Block-I version of the Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) and the first flight test of the upgraded C2 booster.   According to Admiral Syring, in this test “…we’re getting now out to the long-range and closing velocities that certainly would be applicable from a North Korean or Iran type of scenario.” [1]


FTG-15 (Image source: MDA)

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Updated List of Claims about GMD Effectiveness (April 14, 2016)

This is an updated list (previous version was June 16, 2015) 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 (#33, #34, #35 and #36).

(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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A Three-Stage Two-Stage GBI Interceptor (February 2, 2016)

One thing that was surprising (to me, at least) about Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Admiral James Syring’s January 19 2016 presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies was his description of the MDA’s planned two-stage version of the Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI).[1]

The MDA has long had plans to eventually incorporate a two-stage version of the three-stage GBI currently deployed in Alaska and California into its Ground Based Midcourse GMD) national missile defense system.

The idea of using a two-stage version of the GBI first came to public attention in 2006 when the George W. Bush Administration announced plans to deploy two-stage GBIs in Europe to provide an extra layer of defense of U.S. territory against Iranian ICBMs.  Although an agreement was reached in 2008 to deploy ten of the two-stage GBIs on Polish territory, in 2009 President Obama cancelled these plans in order to proceed with his European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).  However, the possibility of deploying two-stage GBIs – this time on U.S. territory — was retained was retained as part of the GMD “hedge” strategy.[2]

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How Many SM-3 Block IIA Missiles? (January 25, 2016)

In a previous post, I projected the number of Aegis BMD ships, and in particular the number of ships with the “advanced” BMD capability, though 2045. I did this primarily because I was interested in the question of how many SM-3 Block IIA interceptors, which have a potentially significant capability to intercept intercontinental-range missiles, are likely to be deployed.  In this post, I turn to the question of projecting how many Aegis SM-3 block IIA interceptors the United States might eventually deploy on its ships and at its Aegis Ashore sites.

(1) Projection based on past and planned procurements.

Figure 1 shows the number of SM-3 Block IA, Block IB and Block IIA missiles in inventory based on past procurements and planned future procurements.


Figure 1.  Number of SM-3 interceptors in inventory.  Diamonds are Block I/IAs, squares are Block IBs, and circles are Block IIAs.  Numbers do not include missiles expended in tests or retired because of reaching the end of their service lives.

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How Many Aegis BMD Ships in 2040? (December 13, 2015)

For another project, I was interested in how many SM-3 Block IIA interceptors and ships capable of launching them the United States would have in the future.  This post is the result of attempting to estimate how many Aegis BMD ships the United States would have by about 2040.  In the next post, I’ll look at the numbers of interceptors.


How Many Aegis BMD Ships Today?

The U.S. Navy currently has 22 Aegis cruisers and 62 Aegis destroyers.  Five of the cruisers (CGs 61, 67, 70, 72 and 73) have a BMD capability.  Of the destroyers, all of the Flight I and Flight II ships (28 ships, DDG 51 through DDG 78) have a BMD capability.  None of the 34 Flight IIA destroyers (though DDG 112) have yet been given a BMD capability.  Thus the United States currently has 33 BMD capable ships.  These numbers are reflected in Figure 1 below.

AegisShips2015Figure 1. Planned (the chart was made in 2013) deployments of BMD capable ships as of 2015. Chart from:

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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.


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