But the ultimate goal is to pit the GMD, with its upgraded kill vehicle, against a target. Prior to the flight test, the MDA had said it would conduct the intercept attempt between March and June; since then test officials have not said when this demonstration will take place.
Mating of the EKV CE2s with their boosters has been on hold while the government-industry team sorted through the technical issue.
Though the GDM and EKV CE 2 were grounded for two years, the legacy system in silos in Vandenberg AFB and Fort Greely, Alaska, remained on alert.
However, the return to flight for the GMD was a relief for many policymakers closely watching activities in North Korea. Pyongyang unleashed a rash of bellicose rhetoric, saying last month that it would target its maturing missile fleet against the U.S. and continue with nuclear tests. The GMD is specifically designed to counter an attack from North Korea, and it is only influential as a deterrent to aggression if it can intercept targets in flight testing.
While the flight test appears to put the GMD back on a growth path, the MDA still faces a host of challenges. A dearth of research expertise is among the top priorities that need to be addressed by the incoming director, Vice Adm. James Syring, according to Philip Coyle, who was associate director for national security and international affairs in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 2010-11 and previously was the Pentagon's chief tester.
Among the reasons for what some say is a “brain drain” at the MDA was the caustic management style of Syring's predecessor, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly. Industry officials note that some of the MDA's top experts left during O'Reilly's tenure due to his biting management and micromanaging.
Hand in hand with that problem is an overarching morale slump at the agency, as well, they say.
Syring will also have to make some tough calls about how to proceed programmatically. O'Reilly deviated from his predecessor, Air Fore Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, in doggedly pursuing technologies to achieve “early intercept” of ballistic missiles—a kill at or before a threat missile reaches apogee. In doing so, he proposed testing of Predator unmanned aircraft outfitted with modified Raytheon MTS-B electro-optical/infrared sensors to provide tracking data early after a threat missile's launch. O'Reilly also pushed the development of the Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS), a satellite constellation designed to track missiles from early after launch through their midcourse, as they cool in space.
Experts at the National Academies of Sciences proposed last September that the MDA terminate the PTSS because they questioned the system's capability, especially in light of the high cost of performing from space.