Missile Defense Test Scrapped

December 2014

By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department said it no longer plans to conduct a flight-intercept test of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system scheduled for next summer.

Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the department’s Missile Defense Agency, told InsideDefense.com in October that the test has been replaced with “a developmental non-intercept test” designed to assess interceptor “thruster performance” and “improved discrimination performance.” In a Dec. 2 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Lehner said this test would “provid[e] data that will improve and enhance system reliability.”

The GMD system is designed to protect the United States from limited missile attacks by Iran and North Korea. A total of 30 interceptors are currently deployed in Alaska and California. The Pentagon is planning to deploy an additional 14 interceptors in Alaska by the end of 2017.

Plagued by cost overruns and test failures, the system successfully intercepted a target in a June 22 test. This was the first successful intercept test since 2008 and the first using the Capability Enhancement II (CE-II) kill vehicle. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) The kill vehicle sits atop the booster rocket and is intended to collide with a target in outer space.

The test that was canceled was scheduled to be another intercept test of the CE-II. Laura Grego, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in a Nov. 3 blog post that the decision to scrap that exercise could mean that the June 22 test “was not as successful as assumed.” Grego noted that the next intercept test of the GMD system now is not scheduled until the summer of 2016, leaving a two-year gap between intercept attempts.

In a Nov. 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Philip Coyle, former director of weapons testing for the Defense Department, said that, with the test cancellation, “the GMD program will be in limbo for years longer, lacking regular, contemporary flight intercept test results to guide development.”