Ballistic Missile Defense: Deploy Before You Fly. Were all the GMD interceptors deployed before they had successfully killed a target in an intercept test? (August 31, 2012)

 Were all the GMD interceptors deployed before they had successfully killed a target in an intercept test? 

At a glance, this might seem impossible.  After all, the deployment of the 30th GBI interceptor did not occur until mid-2009, and the MDA states that it had conducted three successful intercept tests by the end of 2008.  However, a closer examination, taking into account that there are currently two different types of GBIs deployed and a recent revelation about the GBI test program, indicates this may actually have happened.  The publicly available information indicates that, at best, a few of the CE-I versions of the GBI interceptor may have been deployed one or two days after it first successfully killed a target in a test.


Figure 1: GBI Silo Field 2 at Fort Greely, Alaska.  The lower inset shows a GBI being loaded into a silo.

Deployment of GBIs

Deployment of GBIs began on July 22, 2004 when the first GBI was deployed in a silo at Fort Greely Alaska.  By the end of 2004, eight GBIs had been deployed, six in Alaska and two at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  On September 30 2004, the George W. Bush Administration declared that the GMD system had achieved a limited deployment option (LDO) capability, that is, the system was now capable of being turned on and used if necessary.  Northern Command, the actual operator of the GMD system, formally accepted this LDO capability on December 31, 2004.


Figure 2. From a 2009 GAO report.[1]  The last row the of the chart shows the deployment of of GBIs from the beginning of FY 2006 through the first quarter of FY 2009 (shaded in light blue).

The interceptors that were deployed were the first ones built to an operational configuration and equipped with the Capability Enhancement-1 (CE-I) version of the Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV).    Deployment of the CE-I GBIs continued until 24 of them had been deployed by the end of Fiscal Year 2007, as shown by the chart from the Government Accountability Office in Figure 2 above.  Thus the last deployment of a CE-I interceptor took place no later than September 30, 2007.

As the GAO chart shows, deployment of GBIs then paused for more than a year.  When deployment resumed in late 2008 they were of a new version of the GBI, equipped with the new Capability Enhancement-2 (CE-II) kill vehicle. [For a discussion of why the new CE-IIkill vehicle was needed and the differences between it and the CE-I, see the post of April 3, 2012]  Ten of these CE-II GBIs were deployed (after the 30th GBI was deployed, CE-II GBIs began replacing older CE-I GBIs on a one-for-one basis, keeping the total deployment at 30), until the MDA suspended deliveries following the failure of the FTG-06a intercept test in December 2010.  Deliveries of new GBIs are to remain suspended until after a successful intercept test of a CE-II, and the next such intercept attempt currently is scheduled for 2013.  Thus at present there are 20 CE-I and 10 CE-II GBIs deployed, although none of the CE-II GBIS will be considered operational until after a successful intercept test. 


GBI Testing

At the time the first GBIs were deployed there had been no flight or intercept tests conducted using operationally-configured GBIS.  Prior tests had used GBI prototypes.   As the Pentagon’s Director Of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) stated at a March 2012 congressional hearing: “and in 31 December, 2004, when NORTHCOM accepted the LDO capability with eight GBIs in silos at Fort Greeley, there had been no successful flight tests at all of the GBI and kill vehicle that were used in that limited deployment option.”[2]

The first flight test of an operationally-configured GBI (that is, one using the production versions of both the missile and kill vehicle) was FT-1on December 13, 2005 and was reportedly successful.  The first intercept test, FTG-02, took place on September 1, 2006, and the MDA described the result as a successful intercept.  This was followed by two more successful intercept tests, FTG-03a on September 28, 2007 and FTG-05 on December 5, 2008.   All of these tests used the version of the GBI equipped with the CE-I kill vehicle.

However, at a March 6, 2012 congressional hearing J.Michael Gilmore, (Director, Operational Test and Evaluation) revealed that in the first intercept test, FTG-02, the interceptor “did not achieve a kill” and that “The first actual intercept with a kill occurred on 28 September, `07.”[3]

Thus the first actual successful intercept (where success means the target was destroyed) was actually on September 28, 2007.   As discussed above, deployment of all the CE-I GBIs is known to have been completed by September 30, 2007.  Thus it is clear that all the CE-I GBIs were built, and likely deployed, before a single one had completed a successful intercept test.  At best one or two of the GBIs may have been deployed one or two days after the first successful intercept test.

What about the CE-II GBIs?  There have been only two flight tests of CE-II GBIs.  Both of these tests were in 2010, both were intercept tests, and both failed, the second one because of a design flaw in the kill vehicle.  As discussed above, following the second test failure, deliveries of new GBIs was suspended until after a successful intercept test can be completed.

Thus it appears all the GBIs were deployed before their respective type achieved a kill in a test (with the possible two day margin noted above for the CE-I GBIs).

[1] U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Production and Fielding of Missile Defense Components Continue with Less Testing and Validation Than Planned,” GAO-09-338, March 13, 2009, p. 43.  Available at:

[2] J. Michael Gilmore, House Armed Services Committee, March 6, 2012.

[3] J. Michael Gilmore, House Armed Services Committee, March 6, 2012.

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