On Wednesday August 13, at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium, MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring was one of the featured speakers. As Admiral Syring started to go through his slides, Aviation Week reporter Amy Butler began to photograph the slides. Even though the the slides were clearly marked “Approved for Public Release,” meeting organizers quickly stopped her, saying photographing of the slides was not permitted. However, before she was stopped she managed to photograph twelve of the slides and subsequently posted them on twitter (she tweets as @ABAviationweek). You can read her account about the slides and her (sucessful) attempt to ask Admiral Syring a question here:
The twelve slides that were posted are actually more detailed and interesting then those in your typical MDA briefing. Hopefully they will all soon be publicly available.
The slide that struck me as the most interesting was one titled “Track Gate Anomaly (TGA)” shown below:
This slide reveals that the “Track Gate Anomaly” was the cause of the failed intercept test FTG-06a in December 2010. FTG-06a was the second consecutive failure of the new CE-II version of the Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle. This failure had serious consequences for the GMD system, forcing MDA to halt deliveries of new kill vehicles for about three and half years. This TGA problem has apparently been known to DoD insiders for many years, but this slide is the first time I have ever seen the TGA equated with the problem that caused the FTG-06a failure. [See the comments following this post for an explanation of what a “track gate” is.]
According to Syring’s slide, the TGA problem was first detected in intercept test IFT-06 in 2001, and it was seen in eight tests over nine years. In the period between IFT-6 in 2001 and FTG-06a in 2010, there were a total of nine GMD intercept tests where it would have been possible to observe this TGA (there were also three other tests in which the interceptor did not launch or the kill vehicle failed to separate from the booster rocket). Thus it appears that there was only one intercept test between 2001 and 2010 where the TGA problem did not occur. Syring’s slide also states that while MDA initially believed the TGA problem was caused by electromagnetic interference, by 2005 they had assessed it as a vibration-related problem. This was before the first CE-I intercept test, which was in September 2006 and more than four years before the first CE-II test.
It also now seems clear that this TGA is the “Pervasive, Enduring Problem ~ Not a ‘Glitch” cited by Philip Coyle, a former Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation, at a 2008 Congressional Hearing. According to Coyle’s prepared statement:
“The GAO is describing an anomaly that has persisted in GMD flight intercept tests for seven years, since 2001. If not corrected this anomaly could cause the EKV to temporarily lock onto the “wrong” target” and miss the real target.”
Note that Coyle’s statement was made in April 2008, more than a year and a half before the first flight test of the new CE-II kill vehicle.
Even earlier, in 2004, Senator Carl Levin similarly raised the issue of the TGA possibly causing the EKV to miss its target when he asked (in a written question):
“General Kadish, the DOT&E, in his Annual Report to Congress submitted in January of this year, noted that a ‘‘track gate anomaly’’ in the kill vehicle had existed in intercept tests IFT–7, –8, and –9. I also understand that repeated attempts to fix this problem have so far proved unsuccessful, and that this problem could cause the interceptor to miss its target by losing track. Why didn’t you continue intercept tests at least until this known ‘‘track gate anomaly’’ problem was proven to have been fixed?”
The occurrence of the TGA problem in tests FTG-6 through FTG-9 is particularly signifcant because the EKVs used in these tests used the same IMU as was used in the subsequently deployed CE-I equipped interceptors. After both intercept tests of the CE-II equipped interceptors failed in 2010, MDA officials had reassured questioners that the GMD system could still be relied on to defend us, because twenty of the thirty interceptors deployed use the older CE-I version of the EKV, which they said did not have this TGA problem. For example, as the MDA Director Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly told the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 18, 2012:
Senator COCHRAN. “Could you explain what contingency plans we may be developing to provide homeland defense if there are test failures?”
General O’REILLY. “Sir, the problems we’ve had in flight testing, and we’ve had two failures, were with the latest version of the front-end of the missile, the EKV. The older EKV is deployed today. It’s been successful in five tests (three intercept tests and two other flight tests). We have never seen any indication of a problem on the ground with the older EKV.”
It now appears that this statement, while it may be technically correct, is misleading. In particular, the claim that MDA has never seen “any indication of a problem on the ground” with CE-I EKVs may be true, but that is only because the ground-based testing equipment at that time was incapable of reproducing the conditions under which the TGA occurred. In April 2011, MDA Director Patrick O’Reilly told Congress about the FTG-06a failure:
“In our latest GMD test, we did have a failure mode that could not be replicated on the earth. And that’s why I’m going to request an additional test to verify we fixed it.”
But Syring’s slide makes it clear that MDA were in fact seeing this problem repeatedly with older EKVs (CE-Is and earlier prototypes) in actual test flights.
It may the case that the newer CE-II kill vehicle is more vulnerable to the TGA because its inertial measurement unit is more sensitive than the one in the CE-I EKV. But Coyle’s and Levin’s statements above makes it clear that years before the problem was identified and fixed, there was concern that a TGA could cause earlier versions of the EKV to fail. There does not seem to be any indication in the public record that MDA has done anything to correct this problem in the twenty deployed CE-I interceptors. A fuller accounting of this problem seems to be needed if MDA is going to continue to argue that the CE-I EKVs are not also vulnerable to this problem.
I’ll follow up this post with another one containing a few more details in a few days.
 National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, April 16, 2008.
 The GAO Report Coyle is citing is GAO-07-387, p.25.
 Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Senate Armed Services Committee, April 13, 2011.