In the midst of a pending NATO announcement on the operationalization of missile defense systems in Europe and the FBI clearing presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information, the Los Angeles Times-on its front page-attacked the reliability of America’s Missile Defense system (click here to read the article) with hyperbole, false deductions and information sourced from two unnamed scientists in the Pentagon whom leaked classified information. The L.A. Times stated the non-intercept test of the Ground Based Interceptor CTV-02 (the 39th test of the system–link) on January 28th out of Vandenberg AFB, California was unsuccessful, citing an unnamed scientist-not identified as a systems or propulsion aerospace engineer-who claimed a failed thruster was responsible.
“One of the four thrusters stopped working during the maneuvers, and the interceptor peeled away from its intended course” according to the Pentagon scientists sourced in the article. “The thruster remained inoperable through the final, ‘homing phase’ of the test, when the kill vehicle was supposed to make a close fly-by of the target,” stated one of Pentagon scientists.
Lost in the extrapolated clutter of informed misinterpretation by the LA Times, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) released the following information about the January 28th, 2016 CTV-02 test results:
In May of this year, the MDA submitted a classified 25-page report to Congress that summarized the results for the non-intercept test of January 28th, 2016. The report claimed a success rate of 100 percent on all primary objectives and a success rate of 99 percent for all secondary ones. One anomaly was reported that did not affect any of the objectives. No member of Congress has come forward challenging the results or findings of the January 28th test, nor were any Senators or Congressmen quoted by the L.A. Times for their misleading assertion that the January 28th test was unsuccessful.
On January 20th, the objectives for the CTV-02 non-intercept test were clearly laid out by Vice Admiral James Syring, Director of MDA, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
“We’re going to fly a very long-range, complex, air-launched IRBM target as the target, full of countermeasures and decoys, to gather discrimination data that we need to affect the previous two charts in terms of what we’re worried about, to increase the system performance. But the primary objective is to fully flush out and fully test the alternate divert thrusters. These are the thrusters that have been re-designed that address the fundamental problem back in 2010, in terms of designing these to avoid rough combustion when the thrusters trigger to divert, and allow us to ensure through the physical solution that the inertial measurement unit will not be disrupted.”
In simple terms, with the North Korean Nuclear Ballistic threat exponentially increasing to the United States, the only system in the world today that is proven to shoot down ICBM Nuclear Missiles to the United States of America is the current deployed Ground Based Missile Defense system and its Ground Based Interceptors. The country is fortunate that the system is in place today fully operationally with 37 GBIs by the end of this year. Through its 39 tests with the first intercept test in 1999 and the last in January 28th of this year, the National Security objective is to continue to increase reliability of the GMD system by finding anomalies and validating solutions through the testing of the system. Increasing reliability reduces the amount of interceptors needed to shoot down one missile and provides confidence for the protection of the country. To increase reliability on the GMD system is fundamentally to best ensure discrimination of the specific target to intercept and to best ensure the interceptor vehicle can position itself to run itself into the specific target that has been discriminated.
Through these 39 GMD tests, anomalies have been located and solved, one of the most critical being the rough combustion effects of mixing the oxidizer with the rocket fuel in the four divert and altitude thruster rockets of the kill vehicle on the GBI interceptor. While in space, these thrusters are responsible for propelling the kill vehicle and positioning it front of the incoming target warhead. This rough combustion of the thruster in the vacuum of space produces vibrations unknown by testing on earth that sometimes throw off the kill vehicle’s Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU). Through testing results in space and analysis, vibration from the thrusters in space has interfered with the navigational location measured by the IMU, causing the kill vehicle to lose reliability. In solving this anomaly, three major hardware adjustments have been made to reduce the vibration: changes to the fuel injector in the thruster rocket, the shape of the thruster’s rocket exhaust nozzle and a dampening cradle for the IMU.
MDA made the decision after multiple tests in space, analyzing those results to put forth a solution to increase reliability by replacing the original designed thrusters with new enhanced thrusters that will be put on both the current fleet of GBIs and the future fleet that will have the redesigned kill vehicle, to be introduced in 2020. The January 28th test, which was purposely done without an intercept, was to first demonstrate that it could position the kill vehicle to the correct intercept point for the discriminated target then secondly the thrusters attached to the kill vehicle was released to push the boundaries of its divert and altitude maneuvers and its maximum range and fuel consumption.
Absorbing the released MDA message points and 100 percent success rate for all objectives from the January 28th test would accurately deduce that all of the four new thrusters performed to put the kill vehicle in the correct position for an intercept against the target at the initial phase of the test. The thrusters then performed multiple burns in all directions to maximize its capability, fuel and range, with the one exception of one anomaly, after the primary and secondary objectives were achieved that could more reasonably be interpreted as a communication failure than a physical failure of the thruster. The single found anomaly will be solved, and finding that anomaly is why tests in space provide what can never be duplicated by testing on earth. The January 28th non-intercept test increased the confidence and reliability in the GMD system to better protect and defend the United States of America.
The Missile Defense Agency has taken every step possible to baseline the ground missile defense program with proper fundamentals, analysis, testing, and filling in the future architecture. We always have and always will find issues when we test – that’s how we become more reliable and better. The January 28th test was structured in exactly this manner – to test the new capability, and stress the other parts of the entire system to include discrimination and it was a resounding success.