The intercept will help validate the troubled Boeing-run
Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system which provides the sole
U.S. defense against long-range ballistic missiles, and the Raytheon
Co kill vehicle that separates from the rocket and hits an incoming
"This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to improve
and increase the reliability of our homeland ballistic missile
defense system," said Missile Defense Agency (MDA)Director Vice
Admiral James Syring.
He said the agency would continue its ongoing drive to ensure that
the ground-based interceptors and overall homeland defense system
were effective and dependable.
Reuters reported on Friday that the Pentagon is restructuring its
$3.48 billion contract with Boeing for management of the missile
defense system to put more emphasis on maintenance and reliability.
Sunday's high-stakes test came after the system had failed to hit a
dummy missile in five of eight previous tests since the Bush
administration rushed to deploy the system in 2004 to counter
growing threats by North Korea.
Earlier this month, Syring said that another test failure would have
forced the Pentagon to reassess its plans to add 14 more
interceptors to the 30 already in silos in the ground in Alaska and
During the test, a ground-based interceptor launched from Vandenberg
Air Force Base, California, hit a target built by Lockheed Martin
Corp that was launched from the U.S. Army's Reagan Test Site on
Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, according
to the Pentagon and Lockheed.
Lockheed said the unarmed 45-foot (14-meter) target was configured
to closely mirror the capabilities of ground-launched missiles that
can travel 3,000 km to 5,000 km (1,800 to 3,400 miles).
All components involved in the test appeared to have performed as
designed, the Pentagon said. Program officials will spend the next
several months assessing the performance of the system using
telemetry and other data obtained during the test.
The test marked the first successful intercept by Raytheon's
Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle Capability Enhancement II, or EKV CE-II,
which failed in both previous tests conducted in 2010.
Jim Chilton, vice president of Boeing Strategic Missile & Defense
Systems, demonstrated the systemís performance under "an expanded
set of conditions that reflect real-world operational requirements."
Boeing said the operational complexity of the GMD system was "a
major engineering challenge."
[to top of second column]
Raytheon underscored the importance of testing and said Sunday's
successful intercept kept the United States on target to increase
its interceptor inventory to 44 from 30 by 2017.
Corp integrated data from U.S. missile warning satellites and
sea-based radars to help identify, track and destroy the target.
Ten of the interceptors now in place carry the kill vehicle used in
Sunday's test. The other 20 carry an earlier kill vehicle that
failed in a July 2013 test. Syring has said a fix will be
implemented for that issue by year's end.
Riki Ellison, founder of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy
Alliance, hailed the successful test as a big step forward for the
troubled program, and said it would allow U.S. military commanders
to reduce the number of interceptors that would be fired at an
incoming ballistic missile.
"This success is a significant milestone ... that demonstrates the
system's reliability and increases the confidence of the North
American Combatant Commander ... responsible for the defense of the
country," he said.
Critics said the Raytheon kill vehicle had still only succeeded in
one of three tries, and urged Congress to rethink plans to buy 14
more of the flawed interceptors at a cost of $75 million each, or
just over $1 billion.
"Would you spend $1 billion on an insurance policy that only worked
one third of the time?" said Tom Collina, research director at the
Arms Control Association. "We need to put the money into making the
system better, not bigger."
Phil Coyle, former Pentagon chief tester and a longtime critic,
called for accelerated work on a new design. "We need to make sure
we have a system that works, not expand a system we know to be
deeply flawed," he said in a statement.
(Editing by Eric Walsh and Mohammad Zargham)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.