September 10, 2013
Credit: U.S. Navy
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency intercepted two separate medium-range ballistic missile targets simulating a small raid attack on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean during the first-ever operational test of this capability Sept. 10.
The trial was previously planned as part of the ongoing campaign to demonstrate U.S. layered missile defenses, and Pentagon officials stress that it was not done as a response to ongoing discussions about an attack against Syria.
During the trial, Flight Test Operational-01, the targets were intercepted by the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system and the Aegis equipped destroyer USS Decatur with an SM-3 Block IA missile.
A forward-based AN/TPY-2 radar and overhead assets — likely the Defense Support Program and Space-Based Infrared System satellites — detected the threats and passed track data onto the command-and-control system.
Though the forward-based AN/TPY-2 detected the targets, the firing solution actually came from the radars integrated with the shooters. These are the Thaad terminal-mode AN/TPY-2 and the Aegis SPY-1.
A second Thaad interceptor was launched in the event the Aegis failed to intercept its target. It was, however, unnecessary. Aegis and an SM-3 Block IA missed a target during a test last October. Vice Adm. James Syring last month said fixes designed to mitigate the problem are in place, but he did not say what the root cause of the failure was.
One of the targets was the Lockheed Martin Extended Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (EMRBM), making its first flight. The EMRBM was hastily designed in the last few years to accurately emulate threat missiles in this class. The missile is dropped from the back of a C-17 before igniting for its flight. Though the program experienced some component challenges prior to delivery, data thus far suggest a nominal flight during the test, says Doug Graham, vice president of advanced programs for Lockheed Martin. This was one of five EMRBMs that MDA has signed a contract for with Lockheed Martin.
“The test stressed the ability of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) weapon systems to function in a layered defense,” MDA officials said in a statement following the trial.
Because this was an operational test, actual soldiers and sailors manned the defensive systems. The trial “provided a unique opportunity to refine operational doctrine and tactics while increasing confidence in the execution of integrated air and missile defense plans,” MDA officials said.