How Much Do GMD Tests Cost? (December 28, 2012)

My previous post discussed the low rate of flight and intercept testing of the GMD system.    Since testing of operationally-configured interceptors began in December 2005, MDA has averaged about one flight test per year.  Former MDA director Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly has argued that this pace is the fastest that MDA can sustain while still leaving time for learning between tests.

However, another potential factor is simply the cost of the tests.  As discussed below, the cost of a GMD intercept test could be as great as $300 million or even more.  One such test would then be about 3.75% of a roughly $8 billion annual MDA budget.   This may not seem like a large fraction, but could be a significant issue for an agency under budget pressure.  And it makes it clear that doing two or three intercept tests per year, such as is occurring with Aegis SM-3 testing (which comes out of the same budget, but the cost of each test is much less), would likely eat up a prohibitively large chunk of MDA’s budget.

Here are some cost figures for recent and planned GMD flight tests:


FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act Urges (likely unsuccessfully) Accelerated GMD System Testing. (December 24, 2012)

The final 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress on December 21, requires the Secretary of Defense to provide Congress with a report on the testing program for the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) system.  In particular, this report is to assess “the feasibility, advisability, and cost-effectiveness of accelerating the date for testing the GMD system against an ICBM-range target, and of conducting GMD flight tests at a pace of three tests every 2 years.”[1]    The report is to be reviewed by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), whose opinion is to be included in an appendix.

The final bill’s language regarding the test against an ICBM target is significantly weaker than in the original House version of the bill, which required a test against an ICBM target using a GMD interceptor equipped with a CE-I version of the Exo-atmospheric  Kill Vehicle (EKV) by the end of 2013.  It is unclear if this would have been feasible, since the first test against an ICBM target is currently scheduled for the second half of 2015.

The final bill’s requirement for MDA to assess the “feasibility, advisability, and cost-effectiveness” of conducting 3 flight tests every 2 years is slightly weaker than the original House version of the bill, which required a plan be submitted for conducting 3 flight tests every 2 years unless the MDA Director “certifies that such a plan would not be feasible or cost effective.”

Congress’s impatience with the GMD program’s test schedule is understandable.  The system has been operational since late 2004 and still has not been tested against an ICBM target or in a salvo mode (multiple interceptors against one target, which is the way it would actually be used).  It has yet to be successfully intercept-tested against a target employing any countermeasures, nor has the new CE-II version of the EKV been successfully flight-tested.

However, there isn’t much suspense about how MDA will respond to the idea of accelerating flight tests to one very eight months.  Former MDA Director Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly testified in April that conducting more than one GMD flight test per year was a bad idea.  Specifically, he told a Senate committee that “conducting flight tests at a pace greater than once a year prohibits thorough analysis of pre-mission and post-mission flight test data and causes greater risk of further failure and setbacks to developing our homeland defense capability as rapidly as possible.”[2]

Nor does Operational Test and Evaluation seem likely to submit a contrary opinion. As DOT&E J. Michael Gilmore told a House committee in March:

“The flight test pace of about one per year is the best we have been able to do on average over a decade.  That is because these tests are extremely complex.  There is over a terabyte of data that is collected during these tests that has to be analyzed.  I am all for testing at the most rapid pace possible, but you have to assess and analyze the results of these tests in order to learn from them.  It takes a good deal of time to learn from these tests and to plan them.  And as I said, they are extremely complex.”[3]

For more detail, the table below lists the flight tests of the operationally-configured Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) of the GMD system (including  test of the two-stage version of the GBI that at one time was intended for deployment in Poland) along with the projected dates for the next several tests.  This table shows that if we assume that CTV-01 and FTG-06b tests take place in January and summer 2013 as currently planned, then there will have been nine tests flights in about 91 months, for an average spacing of about 11.4 months.   Only six of these were intercept tests, however, or about one every 15 months.   For the near-future, MDA appears to be planning about one GMD flight test a year, although some of these involve two interceptors.


Flight tests of Operationally-Configured GMD Interceptors. (Click on chart for larger image.) FTG-04, FTG-07, FTG-09, and possibly FTG-10 have been cancelled.  FTG-12 and FTG-14 have been moved back to 2021 and 2022, respectively.  Dates for test after 2013 are as of about May 2012.  For sources on dates, see: and

[2] Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Senate Armed Services Committee, April 25, 2012.

[3] Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, House Armed Services Committee, March 6, 2012.

Ballistic Missile Defense: Update on GMD Testing (December 21, 2012)

The last time I reviewed the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) system testing situation was in May 2012 (, at which time the GMD testing program was attempting to recover from the failure of its two most recent intercept tests.  At that time it was expected that the next GMD flight test would be CTV-01, a non-intercept test then scheduled for July 2012.  If CTV-01 was successful, the next test would be an intercept test, FTG-06b that would be held in December 2012 or later.  However, neither test has taken place yet.

This post briefly updates the schedule for these tests and also adds some recently reported information on the cause of the most recent test GMD intercept test failure (FTG-06a).


CTV-01 and FTG-06b (Source: Missile Defense Agency)


North Korean Rocket “No Problem” for U.S. Defenses (and fourteen other claims about the GMD national missile defense system’s effectiveness). (December 14, 2012) (March 8, 2013: Updated with 16th Claim)

Claims by U.S. government officials about the effectiveness of the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system.

(1) March 7, 2013: “I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack.  And our recent success in returning to testing of the upgraded version of the so-called GBI, or the CE2 missile, will keep us on a good trajectory to improve our defense capability against limited ballistic missile threats such as those from North Korea.  But let’s be clear, we are fully capable of dealing with that threat.”  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, in response to a question at White House Daily Press Briefing, March 7, 2013.[1]

(2) December 12, 2012: “I’m very confident that American defense capabilities are able, no problem, to block a rocket like this one.”  U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in response to a question from CNN on the capability of U.S missile defenses, December 12, 2012.[2]

(3) April 13, 2011: “The posture we have today is one that has us well-protected against the initial ICBMs that might be deployed by states like North Korea and Iran with — that are few in number, relatively slow and lack sophisticated countermeasures.”[3]  Bradley Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy.

(4) December 1, 2010: “…the probability will be well in the high 90s today of the GMD system being able to intercept that today.” MDA Director Patrick O’Reilly in response to a question from Representative Trent Franks about countering “one ICBM coming from Tehran to New York.”[4]

(5) April 21, 2010: “It is the belief of the — of the leaders of this department that we have the capability to defend the United States against the — against an ICBM threat from a rogue nation such as Iran or North Korea.  We are confident in the system we have at this point.[5]  Geoff Morrell, Pentagon Press Secretary.

(6) July 28, 2009: “Well, we have a very proven missile system in the area of missiles coming out of North Korea.[6]  MDA Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly.

(7) June 16, 2009: Confidence that a North Korean missile could be shot down is: “ninety percent plus.”[7]  MDA Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly.

(8) June 9, 2009: “I think that the judgement and advice I got was that the 30 silos we have now, or are under construction, are fully adequate to protect us against a North Korean threat for a number of years.[8] And “I have confidence that if North Korea launched a long-range missile in the direction of the United States, that we would have a high probability of being able to defend ourselves against it.”  Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

(9) March 27, 2009: “And Senator, I’ll tell you, if we felt the North Koreans were going to shoot a ballistic missile at us today, I am comfortable that we would have an effective system able to meet that threat.”[9]  General Victor Renaurt, Commander U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Transportation Command.

(10) November 2, 2008: “I have very high confidence we could defend the United States against that threat.[10] MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, about one or two missiles launched from North Korea.

(11) October 2, 2007: “ – does the system work? The answer to that is yes. Is it going to work against more complex threats in the future?  We believe it will.”  MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering.[11]

(12) September 1, 2006: “I would say that if we had to use the system in an operational mode, it would be very capable.[12] MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering.

(13) June 2006: “(From) what I have seen and what I know about the system and its capabilities I am very confident.[13]  MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering.

(14) March 14, 2006: “When the president declares limited defensive operational capability, we are prepared as the shooter, if you will, to execute the mission to defend our country.  And I’m very confident in the efficacy of that system.[14]  Admiral Timothy Keating, Commander of U.S. Northern Command.

(15) March 18, 2003:  “Effectiveness is in the 90% range.[15]   Edward Aldridge, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

(16) March 23, 2003: “There are a lot of things that go into [determining] effectiveness.  Everybody can be right.[16] MDA Director Ronald Kadish, in response to a question about Aldridge’s statement.

[1]The White House, “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney,” March 7, 2013.  Available at:

[2] Bradley Clapper, “U.S. Hesitant in Condemning North Korean Launch,” The Associated Press, December 13, 2012.

[3] “Now what does that mean?  The posture we have today is one that has us well-protected against the initial ICBMs that might be deployed by states like North Korea and Iran with — that are few in number, relatively slow and lack sophisticated countermeasures.  And against this threat, we have the current posture of 30 GBIs and the expected enhancements to come in the defense of the homeland with the future deployment in 2020 time frame of SM-3 2B.”  Opening statement of Bradley Roberts, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, Hearing of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, April 13, 2011.

[4] Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, December 1, 2010.

[5] “DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon,” News Transcript, U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), April 21, 2010.  Available at:   Morrell is the Pentagon Press Secretary.

[6] Gen O’ Reilly: ‘Well, we have a very proven missile system in the area of missiles coming out of North Korea.  The testing we have done to date, we have a lot of testing still to do against all our capability in all scenarios, but in the scenarios out of North Korea, we have intercepted three times out of Fort Greely, Alaska.  The missiles, we actually test them out of Vandenberg, but they’re up at Fort Greely. And then for Hawaii, we have multiple systems (inaudible).  A theater high-altitude-area defense system, its an Army mobile system, and then we have the Navy Aegis system.  And we also have the…”    Margaret Brennan, “US Missile Defense Director Patrick O’Reilly on Bloomberg TV,” Bloomberg TV, July 28, 2009.

[7] SEN Bayh: I’ve bumped up against my time limits here, but there was one final question.  You’re briefing the President of the United States.  He asks you based on — you know,  he’s got to take into consideration what you’re doing in terms of facing these threats.  He asks you if there is a rogue launch, what are the percentages that we’re going to be able to hit it and bring it down, what would you tell him?

GEN. O’Reilly: Ninety percent plus.

SEN. Bayh: Ninety percent plus confidence that we could  — if there’s a rogue launch from North Korea, let’s say, we could intercept that target and bring it down?

Gen. O’Reilly: Yes. Sir.

Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, June 16, 2009.

[8] “I think that the judgement and advice I got was that the 30 silos we have now, or are under construction, are fully adequate to protect us against a North Korean threat for a number of years.”

“I was just in Fort Greely last week, and its an immensly capable system.”  And one of the things that I think is important to remember is, it is still a developmental system.  It has real capabilities, and I have confidence that if North Korea launched a long-range missile in the direction of the United States, that we would have a high probability of being able to defend ourselves against it.”

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Hearing of the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, June 9, 2009.

[9] Senate Armed Services Committee,  March 17, 2009.

[10] “Obama To Be Told U.S. Missile Defense Capable, General Says,”, November 2, 2008.

[11] “DoD News Briefing with Gen. Renuart and Lt. Gen. Obering from the Pentagon, Arlington, Va.”, October 2, 2007.

[12] Pentagon Briefing, September 1, 2006.

[13] Robert Burns, “Missile Defense Chief Confident in Ability To Hit Missile,” The Associated Press State and Local Wire, June 23, 2006.

[14] Jason Sherman, “Experts Question U.S. System’s Ability To Intercept North Korean Missile,” Inside Missile Defense, June 21, 2006.

[15] BAYH: Let me withdraw the question and move on. I think you see where I was heading.

Let me ask you Mr. — Secretary Aldridge, about the effectiveness of the system that’s to be deployed in 2004 and 2005 in protecting against this developing North Korean threat — the 10 land-based missiles proposed for the end of fiscal year 2004 — how effective would they be against the North Korean missile if it were, in fact, launched against our country?

ALDRIDGE: Well, we think that it would be effective. Probably shouldn’t go into a lot of details of…

BAYH: Well, how do you define effective — 90 percent success rate — 75 — 50?

ALDRIDGE: Yes, sir — you would — and you — the way you could achieve these rates is you don’t have to fire just one interceptor per target, you could fire two, as we do in PAC-3.

BAYH: Of course.

ALDRIDGE: And so the effectiveness is in the 90 percent range. Of course, we want the effectiveness to be high enough that we never have to use these things. I mean, that’s the ultimate effectiveness is that they’re never used.

BAYH: There are — there are — there are — there are 10 going online in 2004 — 10 in 2005. The radar is not going to be available — when will that go into place — 2006?

ALDRIDGE: Well, General Kadish has probably got the specific dates for all of those. Let him…

KADISH: We’ll have radars online to handle the early warning and usefulness of the system in ’04, when we put the missiles on alert if everything works out all right. We’ll add the sea-based X-band (ph) if it proves out by — the following year — it’s currently scheduled by September of ’05.

BAYH: So, Secretary Aldridge, your testimony is that with the 10 interceptors going in at the end of fiscal year ’04 and the radar that will be online at that time, we would have a 90 percent effectiveness in shooting down a NATO (ph) Dong II?

ALDRIDGE: Well, it depends on — a lot depends on the continuation of the — of the test and the effective — this precise effectiveness numbers. But I would put — you know, as of today, the projected effectiveness would be in the 90 percent range.
Senate Armed Services Committee, March 18, 2003.

[16] Randy Barrett. “Lawmakers Question Effectiveness of Missile Defense System.” Space News, March 24, 2003, p. 6.


Ballistic Missile Defense: How Much Would it Cost for Norway to Give its Aegis Ships Ballistic Missile Defense Capabilities? (December 7, 2012)

While in Norway recently, I was asked a question about how much it would cost to give Norway’s five existing Aegis-equipped frigates ballistic missile defense capabilities.  This was raised as one hypothetical way the Norway might be able to contribute to the larger NATO missile defense program (and not as something that was expected to happen).  At the time, I just said I didn’t know but guessed that it would be hundreds of millions of dollars.  After returning, I came across a recent report about the cost of Spain similarly upgrading its Aegis ships.  The numbers in this story suggest that the costs would be at least $300-$400 million.


The Norwegian Frigate Fridtjof Nansen (photograph source: Norway Ministry of Defense)


Ballistic Missile Defense: Iron Dome Description (December 5, 2012)

This post collects what information I have been able to find on the characteristics of the Iron Dome system.   Some of the details are of uncertain reliability.  Previous posts (November 29, July 19) discussed what is known about Iron Dome’s effectiveness.

An Iron Dome Battery consists of a radar, a fire control center, and several, typically three or more, launchers.  Each launcher is capable of holding up to 20 Tamir interceptor missiles.  Each battery reportedly costs about $50 million.

irondome radar

The Iron Dome Radar. (Photograph from :