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: https://mostlymissiledefense.com/2012/05/09/gmd-flight-tests-of-operationally-configured-interceptors-may-9-2012/ and https://mostlymissiledefense.com/2012/12/21/ballistic-missile-defense-update-on-gmd-testing-december-21-2012/

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

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

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