The U.S. Navy plans to conduct the next flight test of its Navy Theater Wide (NTW) anti-ballistic missile system before the end of this year but has yet to set a definitive date. In an August 31 announcement, the Navy said the test, the third overall, will repeat the mission of a failed July 14 test, whose objective was to demonstrate the NTW interceptor missile's third-stage booster for the first time. Unlike the previous flight test, the upcoming test will include a target, though no intercept will be attempted.
Pentagon plans for the NTW system envision deployment of SM-3 interceptor missiles on U.S. cruisers and destroyers equipped with upgraded versions of Aegis combat systems, the key element of which is an advanced radar capable of simultaneously detecting and tracking over 100 targets while carrying out missile-guidance operations. Powered by a three-stage booster, the SM-3 missile will carry a kinetic warhead designed to collide with medium- and long-range theater ballistic missile warheads above the atmosphere.
In the July 14 test, the second- and third-stage boosters of the SM-3 missile failed to separate. The Navy identified a programming error in the interceptor's navigation processor as the "most probable cause" of failure. Nevertheless, a mission review team will evaluate "all possible failure paths" before the next test, according to the Navy statement. This first series of tests is to be completed by September 2002, when another round of testing will begin against more realistic targets. The Navy has set a 2006 target date for deployment of the first, limited capability NTW system.