Multiple industry sources suggest that the booster flew as expected until it failed to deploy the EKV, eliminating the chance for a kinetic kill.
If this is the case, the critical question is whether the failure is a result of a systemic design flaw that could jeopardize the functionality of the interceptors at Vandenberg and at Fort Greely in Alaska; these missiles on alert are the only line of defense against a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile attack.
What these officials hope is that a hardware failure is the result of a single manufacturing defect or human error. Although embarrassing, this scenario would be the lesser of the evils because it would have fewer implications for the missiles already in silos.
At the very least, an immediate operational upshot from the test is likely a shift in the so-called shot doctrine. The Army, which operates GMD, has rules that dictate how many interceptors or “shots” are dedicated to each target to ensure a kill. The more reliable the system is thought to be, the fewer interceptors designated per target.
Now, the GBI with the “Capability Enhancement-1,” or CE-1, kill vehicle has achieved eight of 14 intercept attempts.
An increase in the number of missiles assigned to each target diminishes the number of ICBMs the system could handle in a short time, according to one missile defense industry official. “What this test says is that the next time it may work or it may not work,” another official says. “Deterrence is modestly degraded.”
The failure, while vastly disappointing to those in the industrial and government sectors, was not a surprise to all. “At the end of the day, you get what you pay for,” this official says.
The dismal performance is the result of more than five years of diminished funding for GMD development, he says. Funding earmarked for development was actually used to buy GBIs—even though the design was immature—or to fund other activities, such as building a third GMD deployment site in Poland, a plan that was subsequently derailed.
The offset was a gutting of what should have been a consistent program of testing and improving the nascent GMD design, including attention to the GBI, EKV and command-and-control links, the official says.