The FY 2013 DOT&E Report and the GMD System. What does “demonstrated capability” mean? (January 29, 2013)

The FY 2013 Annual Report from the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation is now available. Its short (two pages) section on the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system has already gained notice for its recommendation that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) should consider re-designing the exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) of the GMD interceptor.[1]  Although this might seem like a harsh criticism, it is probably consistent with what the MDA was already planning to do anyway (more on this in a future post).

What most caught my attention about the GMD section of the report was, first, the claim that the GMD system had a demonstrated  capability against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and, second, that the January 2013 CTV-01 GMD flight test might not be the complete success it has been portrayed as:

(1) The first bullet point in the GMD section of the 2013 Report states that the “Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) has demonstrated a partial capability to defend the U.S. Homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran.”

In standard usage, at least in a missile defense context, the word “demonstrated” means that a capability has been shown to work in an actual successful intercept test.  Indeed the word is used in precisely this way in several other parts of the GMD section of the 2013 DOT&E Report. 

However, as is well known, the operational GMD system has never been tested against an ICBM-range target, nor against more than one target at a time.  So how has the GMD system’s effectiveness been “demonstrated” against either ICBMs or against “small numbers” of missiles of any range?  (Unless one reads the word “partial” to mean not against ICBMs and not against more than one missile

Two years ago, the 2011 DOT&E Report contained the more specific assessment that “Ground test results suggest that the GMD system provides a limited capability for the defense of the U.S. Homeland against emerging intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missile threats.” 

Given that there has been no successful intercept test (only two failures) of the GMD system since that 2011 assessment, it is hard to see how the GMD system has progressed from a capability “suggested by ground tests” to a “demonstrated” capability.  This contradiction is highlighted by the second bullet point in the 2013 GMD section, which states that: “The performance of GMD during flight tests in FY13 prevented any improvement in the assessment of GMD capability.”

(2) The Report contains the first public indication (at least that I am aware of) that CTV-01 test of January 2013 was not an unqualified success.  CTV-01 test was a non-intercept test intended to show that the problem that caused the failure of the exo-atmospheric kill vehicle in the previous intercept test, FTG-06a in December 2010, had been correctly identified.  All previous public discussions of the test seemed to indicate that CTV-01 was complete success.  For example, in his prepared statement to the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 17, 2013, MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring stated that: “The successful non-intercept controlled flight test of the next generation CE-II GBI earlier this year (CTV-01) gives us confidence and cautious optimism we have addressed the causes of the FTG-06a endgame failure in December 2010 and are on the right track for a successful return to intercept using the redesigned EKV.”

However the DOT&E Report’s description (six months after Syring’s statement above) of the outcome of this test was somewhat less glowing, saying that “The GBI boost vehicle and the CE-II EKV with the redesigned component performed adequately and mostly as expected.”  It went on to say that: “The MDA noted several unexpected results that did not negatively affect test execution or data collection.  The MDA is analyzing these unexpected results to determine if any of them pose a risk to GBI operational or test performance.”

[1] Andrea Shalal-Esa, “U.S. Should Consider Re-Design of Missile Defense System: Report,” Reuters, January 29, 2014.  Available at:

THAAD Flight Tests Since 2005 (January 27, 2014)

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

FTT-01 (November 22, 2005:  First launch of an operationally-configured THAAD interceptor.[1]  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.[2]  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.[3]  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.


Aegis BMD Update (January 20, 2014)

An update on some recent developments on Aegis BMD as it moves towards the deployment of the Aegis Ashore site with SM-3 Block IB interceptors in Romania in 2015.


The first two Aegis Ashore intercept tests, planned for the end of 2014.  Image Source: MDA[1]


Block IB Intercept Tests

In September and October, MDA conducted two successful initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) intercept tests of the Block IB interceptor, FTM-21 on September 18 and FTM-22 on October 3.  These were the fourth and fifth consecutive successful intercept tests for the Block IB after its first intercept attempt failed in September 2011.  FTM-21 was a salvo test (two interceptors against one short-range missile target) with the first interceptor hitting the target warhead.  FTM-22 was the first tests of a Block IB interceptor against a medium-range target.  At the time it was conducted, FTM-22 was described by MDA as the highest altitude SM-3 intercept ever (with the previous high of about 247 km occurring in the 2008 satellite intercept).  However, MDA subsequently stated that the FTM-22 intercept occurred at a lower altitude than anticipated and thus was not the highest altitude intercept.[2] [Added January 22: Lockheed Spokesperson says that as a result of FTM-22 intercept being lower than expected, the previous test FTM-21 is highest intercept.  See:]

Next Block IB Tests and IB Production

Two more intercept tests of the Block IB interceptor (FTM-23, FTM-24) are planned for the first half of 2014.  Assuming these are successful, the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation may then issue a final IOT&E report as early as July 2014.[3]  In a standard military procurement program, a positive IOT&E report is required before full-rate production of a system can begin.  However, MDA systems are exempt from the regulations, and so it is possible that a full-production decision for Block IB interceptors could be made sooner.  In his July 2013 written statement to the Senate Appropriations Committee, MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring stated that FTM-21 and FTM-22 “will support a full-rate production decision” on the SM-3 Block IB with 39 of the missiles to be delivered by the end of 2014.  (Current MDA plans call for buying 52 Block IBs in FY 2014, followed by 72 per year in FY 2015 through FY 2018.  Numbers for years after 2018 have not been released.)

First Aegis Destroyer to Spain Next Month

As part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), four U.S. Aegis BMD equipped destroyers are to be home ported at the Spanish port of Rota.  The first of these ships, the USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) is now scheduled to arrive there in February.[4]  All four ships are to arrive in Rota before the end of 2015.

Ceremonies for Aegis Ashore in Romania

A ground-breaking ceremony for the planned Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu, Romania was held on October 28 2013.  The same month, a ceremony was held in Moorestown, New Jersey to mark the “light-off” – the beginning of testing — of the Aegis Ashore system destined for Romania.[5]  According to current plans, following testing in New Jersey, the Aegis equipment and the deckhouse housing both it and the radar hardware will be dismantled and shipped to Romania in time to be operational in 2015.

Aegis Ashore Testing

The “light off” ceremony for Aegis Ashore test system at the U.S. Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) test range on Hawaii was held in early December.[6]  As will be the case for the Romania site, the Aegis system was originally set up in and tested in New Jersey before being moved to Hawaii (although a new deckhouse was built in Hawaii instead of moving the one in new Jersey).  The first two Aegis Ashore intercept tests (AA FTM-01 and AA FTM-02, both using the Aegis BMD 5.0 system and SM-3 Block IB interceptors) are currently scheduled for the last quarter of 2014.

[1] Briefing Slides, MDA Deputy Director Rear Admiral Randall B. Hendrickson, 2012 Space and Missile Defense Conference, August 14, 2012

[2] Jason Sherman, “SM-3 Block IB Completes IOT&E with a Bang, Full rate Production Review,” Inside Missile Defense, October 16, 2013.

[3] Jason Sherman, “Key Report on SM-3 IB Effectiveness, Suitability Expected Next Summer,” Inside Defense SITREP, November 13, 2013.

[4] Steven Beardsly, “Missile Destroyers to Raise the Significance of Rota and the Mediterranean,” January 7, 2013.

[5] Megan Eckstein, “Lockheed Martin, NAVY, MDA Complete Light off for Second Aegis Ashore System,” Defense Daily, November 4, 2013.

[6] Lara Seligman, “Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Ashore System Completes ‘Light Off’ at PMRF,” Inside Defense SITREP, January 13, 2013.

Updated List of Claims about GMD Effectiveness (January 16, 2014)


Updated list of claims by U.S. government officials about the effectiveness of the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) System.  This iteration adds four  additional claims (mostly older).  They are #4, #9, #26 and #28 below.  Also added is a quote (#29) on defending Guam, since Guam is U.S. territory but is not covered by the GMD system.

(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.


(3) March 23, 2003:There are a lot of things that go into [determining] effectiveness.  Everybody can be right.[2] MDA Director Ronald Kadish, in response to a question about Aldridge’s statement.

(4) July 21, 2005: “We have a better than zero chance of intercepting, I believe, an inbound warhead.”  That confidence will improve with time.”  MDA Director Lt. General Henry Obering.[3]

(5) 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.[4]  Admiral Timothy Keating, Commander of U.S. Northern Command.

(6) June 2006:(From) what I have seen and what I know about the system and its capabilities I am very confident.[5]  MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering.

(7) July 6, 2006:If it headed to the United States, we’ve got a missile defense system that will defend our country.” President George W. Bush in response to a question on Larry King Live about North Korea’s unsuccessful test of a long-range ballistic missile the day before.

(8) September 1, 2006:I would say that if we had to use the system in an operational mode, it would be very capable.[6] MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering.

(9) January 29, 2007: “We are Confident The Ballistic Missile Defense System Would Have Operated As Designed Had The Taepo Dong-2 Threatened The U.S.,” MDA Deputy Director Brigadier General Patrick O’Reilly.[7]

(10) 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.[8]

(11) November 2, 2008:I have very high confidence we could defend the United States against that threat.[9] MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, about one or two missiles launched from North Korea.

(12) 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.”[10]  General Victor Renaurt, Commander U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Transportation Command.

(13) 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.[11] 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.

(14) June 16, 2009: Confidence that a North Korean missile could be shot down is: “ninety percent plus.”[12]  MDA Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly.

(15) June 18, 2009 (approximately):  “I’d believe we have a reasonable chance” of intercepting a North Korean missile.  Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Charles McQueary, in an interview on his last day in the job.[13]

(16) July 28, 2009:Well, we have a very proven missile system in the area of missiles coming out of North Korea.[14]  MDA Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly.

(17) 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.[15]  Geoff Morrell, Pentagon Press Secretary.

(18) 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.”[16]

(19) 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.”[17]  Bradley Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy.

(20) 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.[18]

(21) 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.[19]

(22) March 15, 2013: “We have confidence in our system.  And we certainly will not go forward with the additional 14 interceptors until we are sure that we have the complete confidence that we will need.  But the American people should be assured that our interceptors are effective.”  Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in response to a question at a Pentagon press conference, March 15, 2013.

(23) April 9, 2013: I believe we have a credible ability to defend the homeland, to defend Hawaii, to defend Guam, to defend our forward-deployed forces and defend our allies.  Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Senate Armed Services Committee, April 9, 2013 in response to a question about intercepting North Korean missiles.[20]

(24) May 9, 2013:We do have confidence in the ability of the ballistic missile defense system to defend the United States against a limited attack from both North Korea and Iran today and in the near future.” Lt. General Richard Formica, Commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command and Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, in response to a question from Senator Mark Udall about the capability of “our current GMD system to defend all of the United States, including the East Coast, against current and near-term ballistic missile threats from both North Korea and Iran?”[21]

(25) May 9, 2013:The East Coast is well-protected as the result of — well, it was protected before the additional — and this additional ’14 provides additional protection both for anything from North Korea as well as anything from Iran should that threat develop.”  Madelyn Creedon, Assistant Defense Secretary for Global Strategic Affairs, in response to a question from Senator Mark Udall (and referring to the recently announced plan to deploy 14 additional interceptors in Alaska).[22] 

(26) July 2013: “I stand by my response in the testimony I provided on May 9.”  Lt. General Richard Formica, Commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, when asked about the effectiveness of the GMD System shortly after failure of FTG-07 on July 5, 2013.[23]

(27) July 10, 2013:  But we maintain that we have a robust missile defense system in place to defend the United States and our allies from a range of threats.”   “We have a range of assets that can support American missile defense, and we are confident that we can defend this country from the missile threat.” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little , July 9 2013 (four days after the failed FTG-07 intercept test of the GMD system).[24]

(28) Sometime before August 21, 2013:  “Of course you’re protected. Yes, you’re protected.  We’re proud to protect you.”  MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring, in response to the question “Am I protected where I live?” asked by a person sitting next to him on an airplane.[25]

Bonus Quote on Defending Guam from a North Korean Missile Attack:

(29) April 5, 2013: THAAD together with other systems such as Aegis and Patriot could take out a missile launched by North Korea at Guam “fairly quickly.” “We are very confident of that.”  Major General Dana J. H. Pittard (Commander of Fort Bliss, home base for THAAD).[26]



[1]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.

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

[3] Ann Scott Tyson, “U.S. Missile Defense Being Expanded, General Says,” The Washington Post, p. A10, July 22, 2005.

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

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

[6] Pentagon Briefing, September 1, 2006.

[7] “Missile Defense Program Overview For The Washington Roundtable On Science And Public Policy,” MDA Briefing Slides, Januaary 29, 2007.

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

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

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

[11] “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.

[12] 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.

[13] Viola Gienger, “Gates: Take Defense Steps,” The Salt Lake Tribune, June 18, 2009.

[14] 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.

[15]“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.

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

[17] “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.

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

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

[20] SEN. MCCAIN: Do you believe that we have the ability to intercept a missile if the North Koreans launch a missile, as is widely reported they would do in coming days.

ADM. LOCKLEAR: I believe we have a credible ability to defend the Homeland, to defend Hawaii, to defend Guam, to defend our forward-deployed forces and defend our allies.

SEN. MCCAIN: Do we have the capability to intercept a missile if the North Koreans launch within the next several days?


[21] Hearing of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, May 9, 2013.

[22] Hearing of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, May 9, 2013.

[23] Jason Sherman, “Top Army General Still Confident ib=n GMD System Despite Intercept Test Failure,” Inside Defense SITREP, July 10, 2013.

[24] U.S. Department of Defense, “Department of Defense News Briefing with George Little,” News Transcript, July 9, 2013.  Available at:

[25] Amy Guckeen Tolson, “MDA Director Gives Update on Missile Defense,”, August 21, 2013.

[26] Donna Miles, “Missile Defenders Trained, Ready for Deployment, General Says,” American Forces Press Service, April 5, 2013.