EKVs, RKVs, CKVs, MOKVs and More. (April 26, 2015)

There have been at least as many acronyms and designations assigned to current, past and future kill vehicles of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) national missile defense system as there have been successful intercept tests of such kill vehicles.  Below I summarize the most important of these kill vehicle designations.

EKV CE-0: This designation covers the kill vehicles used in the first seven GMD intercept tests, from 1999 to 2002, as well as the IFT-1a and IFT-2 fly-by tests in 1998-99.  The first, and so far only, place I have seen this designation is on the slides used by MDA Director Admiral Syring during his August 13 presentation at the 2014 Space and Missile Defense Conference.  (These slides were obtained via FOIA by Laura Grego of the Union of Concerned Scientists.)  These kill vehicles are sometimes referred to as “prototypes” although this term is sometimes also used for the later CE-I and CE-II kill vehicles as well.  The “CE” stands for Capability Enhancement, so the CE-0 designation seems to be both a retroactive designation as well as a catch-all for all the early GMD kill vehicles, as indicated by its use for both the fly-by tests, which used two completely different competing kill vehicle designs.


The Long Range Discrimination Radar at S-Band? (April 20, 2015)

It appears likely that the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) Defense’s new Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) will operate at S-band instead of at X-band. This raises the question of whether the better range resolution that would have been available at X-band is being sacrificed in order to keep the initial cost of the LRDR down to about $1 billion. Or is there some other reason?

Although the current Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system nominally provides coverage of all 50 states from limited intercontinental ballistic missile attack, it is well known that the system is severely lacking in its discrimination capabilities. In particular, the primary sensor infrastructure (aside from the infrared seekers on interceptor kill vehicles) for the GMD system consists of five radars — seven within a few years — in the United States, Greenland and Britain that were originally built for ballistic missile early warning purposes.[1] These radars date to the 1970s-1980s, but have subsequently received (or will soon receive) relatively minor upgrades that allow them to detect and track incoming missiles as part of the GMD system.[2] However, the relatively low operating frequency of these radars (about 440 MHz, corresponding to a wavelength of about 0.68 m) limits their bandwidth, resulting in a minimum range resolution of no less than about 5 meters.[3] This low resolution limits these radars to at best being able to only classify objects as potentially threatening (warheads, decoys, booster stages, etc…) or non-threatening (small pieces of debris).[4]


Update on Future Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) Flight Tests (April 12, 2015)

An updated description of planned GMD flight tests (last update was post of April 17, 2013) as best as I can figure them out:

FY 2016: GM CTV-02+ (1Q FY 2016). This test replaces FTG-09, which was previously planned as an intercept test with a CE-II kill vehicle. The “+” indicates that the kill vehicle has the fix to the vibration problem that was demonstrated in the June 2014 FTG-06b test.[1] One purpose of the test is to “demonstrate the performance of alternate divert thrusters” that might be used in future kill vehicles.[2] One reason for developing the new thrusters is to reduce further the vibration problem involved in the failure of test FTG-06a in December 2010. The test is also intended to demonstrate “the end-to-end discrimination of a complex target scene including countermeasures.”[3] Although officially not an intercept test, the presence of a target raises the prospect that the interceptor might actually hit the target, as happened in FTG-02 in 2006, without running the risk of failing an intercept test.