Department of Defense Says No to Increased GMD Testing (February 13, 2014)

As discussed in my post of December 24, 2012, the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act required the Department of Defense (DoD)  to provide a report to Congress on testing of the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system.  Specifically the report was 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.”

Yesterday, Inside Defense SITREP reported that DoD’s response, which was delivered to Congress last fall but has not been publicly released, said that neither increase in the pace of testing was feasible.[1]  As I noted in my December 24 post, such a response was to be expected given previous statements by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E). 

However, if anything, it now appears possible that the test against an ICBM target may actually be further delayed rather than accelerated.    For the last several years, MDA and DOT&E have been saying that the first GMD intercept of an ICBM target would take place in fiscal year 2015 (specifically in the 3rd quarter of calendar year 2015).  Now, according to MDA spokesman Richard Lehner, the plan is for “a flight test against an ICBM target in the 2015-2016 time frame when an appropriate ICBM target becomes available.”[2]

The report to Congress also repeated MDA’s argument (again see my post of December 24, 2012) that a GMD test pace of more than one test per year was not feasible because of the complexity of the tests.  (In comparison, in 2013 the MDA conducted five successful intercept tests of exo-atmospheric SM-3 Aegis BMD interceptors in less than eight months – from February 12 to October 3.)


[1] Jason Sherman, “DOD To Congress: MDA Has No Plans To Accelerate Pace of GMD Testing,” Inside Defense SITREP, February 12, 2014.

[2]Sherman, “DOD To Congress.”

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4 Comments

  1. Allen Thomson

     /  February 13, 2014

    Any idea what the criteria for the appropriateness of an “appropriate ICBM target” might be? A GBI from MDA’s own inventory could qualify or, if they needed a liquid fueled booster for some reason, I’m sure Elon Musk would be happy to submit a bid.

    Reply
  2. The Aegis Standard Missile Program with its “Build a little, test a little”, and build upon success provides the greatest and most reliable method for development of a mid-course capable weapon. In addition, a mid-course weapon made to operate aboard a ship can cover 70% of the surface of the planet, and can be placed ashore. It is a crime that politics has poured out tax dollars into a turkey that has a 48% success rate, and cannot demonstrate that ability. A change in direction is needed before its too late. Aegis Ashore can work on US Soil as well as our Allies.

    Reply
  3. Allen,
    I’m not sure what the word “appropriate” is supposed to signify here. The targets have been a big problem for MDA. As recently as 2012, GAO reported (GAO-12-486, p. 90) that MDA had cancelled its contract for ICBM targets because it wasn’t going to test against an ICBM until 2020. At the same time, MDA was saying it would test against an ICBM in 2015. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first test is against something only slightly over the ICBM lower range limit of 5,500 km.

    Reply
  4. j_kies

     /  February 21, 2014

    Self-inflicted wounds – these are bad definition issues – GBI representative vehicles for the parts that matter (the KV) have been flown against ICBM range targets to ICBM ranges repeatedly during the IFT flights (with most of the test successes). The closure rates for ICBM intercepts range from ~6km/s to ~13km/s the most recent FTG failures (6, 6a and 7) have all flown closure rates well into the ICBM intercept range. DOTE doesn’t have a rational story behind the stated desire for an ICBM target. Per SM-3 as an ICBM interceptor – the physically possible coverage is laughable and people ought to look at the physics before suggesting such concepts.

    Reply

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