Update on Future Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) Flight Tests (April 20, 2016)

An updated description of planned GMD flight tests (last update was my post of April 12, 2015) as best I can reconstruct them.  Between now and mid-2021, it appears that MDA plans five intercept and one non-intercept test of the GMD system.

FY 2017:

FTG-15 (1Q FY 2017).  This is scheduled to be the first intercept test since FTG-06b in July 2014.  It will be the first GMD intercept test against an ICBM-range target (range greater than 5,500 km).  The target will include countermeasures.  FTG-15 will  also will be the first flight and intercept test of the new production CE-II Block-I version of the Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) and the first flight test of the upgraded C2 booster.   According to Admiral Syring, in this test “…we’re getting now out to the long-range and closing velocities that certainly would be applicable from a North Korean or Iran type of scenario.” [1]


FTG-15 (Image source: MDA)

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Updated List of Claims about GMD Effectiveness (April 14, 2016)

This is an updated list (previous version was June 16, 2015) of claims by U.S. government officials about the effectiveness of the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system.  It adds four additional claims (#33, #34, #35 and #36).

(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.

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A Three-Stage Two-Stage GBI Interceptor (February 2, 2016)

One thing that was surprising (to me, at least) about Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Admiral James Syring’s January 19 2016 presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies was his description of the MDA’s planned two-stage version of the Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI).[1]

The MDA has long had plans to eventually incorporate a two-stage version of the three-stage GBI currently deployed in Alaska and California into its Ground Based Midcourse GMD) national missile defense system.

The idea of using a two-stage version of the GBI first came to public attention in 2006 when the George W. Bush Administration announced plans to deploy two-stage GBIs in Europe to provide an extra layer of defense of U.S. territory against Iranian ICBMs.  Although an agreement was reached in 2008 to deploy ten of the two-stage GBIs on Polish territory, in 2009 President Obama cancelled these plans in order to proceed with his European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).  However, the possibility of deploying two-stage GBIs – this time on U.S. territory — was retained was retained as part of the GMD “hedge” strategy.[2]

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How Many SM-3 Block IIA Missiles? (January 25, 2016)

In a previous post, I projected the number of Aegis BMD ships, and in particular the number of ships with the “advanced” BMD capability, though 2045. I did this primarily because I was interested in the question of how many SM-3 Block IIA interceptors, which have a potentially significant capability to intercept intercontinental-range missiles, are likely to be deployed.  In this post, I turn to the question of projecting how many Aegis SM-3 block IIA interceptors the United States might eventually deploy on its ships and at its Aegis Ashore sites.

(1) Projection based on past and planned procurements.

Figure 1 shows the number of SM-3 Block IA, Block IB and Block IIA missiles in inventory based on past procurements and planned future procurements.


Figure 1.  Number of SM-3 interceptors in inventory.  Diamonds are Block I/IAs, squares are Block IBs, and circles are Block IIAs.  Numbers do not include missiles expended in tests or retired because of reaching the end of their service lives.

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How Many Aegis BMD Ships in 2040? (December 13, 2015)

For another project, I was interested in how many SM-3 Block IIA interceptors and ships capable of launching them the United States would have in the future.  This post is the result of attempting to estimate how many Aegis BMD ships the United States would have by about 2040.  In the next post, I’ll look at the numbers of interceptors.


How Many Aegis BMD Ships Today?

The U.S. Navy currently has 22 Aegis cruisers and 62 Aegis destroyers.  Five of the cruisers (CGs 61, 67, 70, 72 and 73) have a BMD capability.  Of the destroyers, all of the Flight I and Flight II ships (28 ships, DDG 51 through DDG 78) have a BMD capability.  None of the 34 Flight IIA destroyers (though DDG 112) have yet been given a BMD capability.  Thus the United States currently has 33 BMD capable ships.  These numbers are reflected in Figure 1 below.

AegisShips2015Figure 1. Planned (the chart was made in 2013) deployments of BMD capable ships as of 2015. Chart from:  https://www.navalengineers.org/ProceedingsDocs/ASNEDay2014/Day1/AEGIS_CS2.pdf.

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Updated list of launch times for GMD Intercept Tests (August 10, 2015)

This post updates my post of June 3, 2013 by adding FTG-07 and FTG-06b.  The table shows that MDA has still not conducted a GMD intercept test in which the target was not illuminated by the Sun.


Location Key:  VN = Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

KD = Kodiak, Alaska

KW = Kwajalein Atoll.

All times are local (either standard or daylight savings, whichever is in effect).

Kodiak is four hours behind east coast time.

Kwajalein does not use daylight saving time and is 17 hours ahead of EST and 16 ahead of EDT.

The table shows the launch locations and times (extracted from MDA press releases and news reports) for the seventeen intercept tests of both prototype and operationally-configured GMD ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs).    Data for intercepts claimed as successful are in black and data in red is for failed intercept attempts.  As the table shows, the latest interceptor launch time for a successful intercept is 3:19 pm local time (IFT-7).  Taking into account the relative time and location of the target and interceptor launches, it is clear that all the successful intercept attempts took place with the target directly illuminated by the Sun.

There is one intercept attempt that clearly took place at night (IFT-10), in which the interceptor was launched at about 8:45 pm local time and in a direction generally heading away from the Sun.  However, the intercept attempt failed when the kill vehicle failed to separate from the final booster stage.

Two other intercept attempts were conducted in which the interceptor launch would have occurred shortly before local sunset, IFT-13c and IFT-14.  However, in both these cases, the interceptor failed to launch.  Without knowing where the intercepts were planned to take place (and I haven’t tried to find out),one cannot be certain if the targets would have been sunlit, but give the targets’ launch locations (Kodiak) and typical intercept altitudes (250 km) in earlier tests, it seem likely they would have been.

Updated Table of Radar Participation in GMD Intercept Tests Using Operationally-Configured Interceptors. (August 3, 2015)

–The PAVE PAWS radars in AK and MA are not yet part of the GMD system.

–Because of its location and orientation, Cobra Dane has never participated in a GMD intercept test.

–The BMEWS radars in Greenland and Britain are unable to observe GMD intercept tests.

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Aegis Ashore vs THAAD (July 27, 2015)

In a comment to my post of July 16 about the THAAD deployment in Guam being made permanent, a question was raised about why THAAD was proposed for South Korea and Aegis Ashore for Romania and Poland (and why not vice versa).

There are two main technical issues that almost certainly drove the decision of which system went where:

(1) Europe can be almost completely covered by two Aegis Ashore sites but achieving similar coverage with THAAD would require a prohibitive number of THAAD batteries.  On the other hand, S. Korea is small enough to be covered by one or two THAAD batteries.

A single Aegis Ashore site (with the Block IIA interceptor) can cover a much larger geographical area than a single THAAD deployment.  The Block IIA interceptor is scheduled to begin deployment in 2018.  This larger coverage area occurs because the Aegis Block II interceptor has a much higher burnout speed (likely about 4.5 km/s) than a THAAD interceptor (likely about 2.6-2.8 km/s) and thus can reach out to make intercepts at much greater ranges.

This is illustrated in two 2007 Missile Defense Agency Briefing slides.  The yellow “footprints” in Figure 1 below shows the area that could be covered by three THAAD batteries in eastern Turkey against Iranian ballistic missiles.  For THAAD, this situation — in which the attacking missiles are launched from a country bordering the country targeted – is closely analogous to the North Korea-South Korea situation.  However, the three THAAD batteries together cover only a small fraction of Turkey.


Figure 1.  Coverage of Europe against Iranian ballistic missile by THAAD, Aegis (Block IB), and two-stage GBI interceptors.  Slides from MDA Executive Director Patricia Sanders, “Missile Defense Program Overview For The 4th International Conference On Missile Defense,” June 26, 2007.  Available at: https://mostlymissiledefense.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/bmd-overview-sanders-june2007.pdf

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THAAD Battery to be Permanently Deployed in Guam (July 16, 2015)

The U.S. Army has announced plans to make the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in Guam permanent. This would be the first permanent deployment of a THAAD battery outside the continental United States.  The Army has released a fact sheet and draft environmental assessment about the proposed permanent basing and has already held two public meetings in Guam about it.

The THAAD battery was first deployed to Guam on an “expeditionary” basis in April 2013, following North Korean threats to the Island.  The Google Earth image below shows the initial deployment of the THAAD battery’s TPY-2 radar and other equipment. (A THAAD battery consists of a TPY-2 X-band radar and associated equipment, a command and communications unit, and a number of truck-mounted launchers (typically as many as six) each of which can carry eight THAAD interceptors.)


The picture above, from February 2014, shows the original (“expeditionary”) deployment of the THAAD TPY-2 radar on Guam.  The radar equipment is at the top of the image, just left of center.  The antenna unit is the thinner object at the top.  Immediately behind it is the electronic equipment unit.  Perpendicular to and to the right of the electronic equipment unit is the cooling unit.  Perpendicular to and to the right of the cooling units are two electrical power units.  One or more of the three objects behind the power units may be additional THAAD equipment (truck-mounted missile launchers or the command and communications unit). Google Earth image, February 4, 2014.

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First Aegis Ashore Intercept Test Aborted. Does this Raise Issues for Planned 2015 Deployment Date for the Romanian Aegis Ashore Site? (June 27, 2015)

On Friday (June 26) it was reported that MDA had aborted an intercept test of the Aegis Ashore system following a failure of the target missile.  Although not stated by MDA, the aborted test was apparently the one designated FTO-02 Event 1 (FTO-02 E1). According to the March 2015 prepared statement by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, J. Michael Gilmore, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, FTO-02 E1 was to “…provide critical data needed for my assessment of Aegis Ashore’s capability to defend Europe as part of the President’s European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).


FTO-02 E1 Mission Patch. Available at http://missile.bigcartel.com/product/fto-02-e1-patch, but it’s sold out.

Background on Aegis Ashore Testing

Under President Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach, Aegis Ashore sites were to become operational in Romania in 2015 and in Poland In 2018. The initial plan (2010) was that these two European deployments would be supported by a series of seven Aegis Ashore flight tests, including five intercept tests, conducted at the Aegis Ashore Test facility in Kauai Hawaii. According to that plan, shown schematically in the GAO figure below, all of these tests would have been completed by the end of 2015, paving the way for the activation of the Romanian Aegis Ashore site that same year.

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