Light in the Depth of Darkness

September 01, 2011

Dear Members and Friends,


Across the darkness of the depth of night, a white streak of light, increasing in speed and fading away, breaks the atmosphere into space.  Launched from Barking Sands, Kauai, the multi-stage target ballistic missile was headed into a defended area of the Pacific Ocean patrolled by a U.S. Navy Aegis BMD Cruiser:  The USS Lake Erie CG 70.  Stationed a few hundred miles off the coast of the Hawaiian Islands and equipped with a new 4.0.1 Aegis processor and a new SM3 Block 1B missile, its combat information center made up of sailors and officers, the USS Lake Erie engaged the propelling white streak of light of a short-range target ballistic missile.


The new missile, on its first ever intercept flight with dual band sensors coupled with a new type of small, solid fuel rocket motors assembly on its kill vehicle to make the fine tune adjustments needed to hone into the fast-moving target warhead to hit it directly with pure kinetic energy, failed to destroy the target missile in space and defend the wide area below.


The failure of this new missile in its first intercept test within a highly successful and proven Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System should be acknowledged as a risk acceptance when expanding capability to be more robust than the missile it is replacing:  In this case, the SM3 Block 1A, which has had 19 successful intercepts out of 22 tests involving intercepts.  As the sophistication of the threat missiles from Iran and North Korea continues to advance and be demonstrated, so must our nation’s missile defense ability to counter and stay ahead of those threats.  Risk is inherent in keeping ahead of the threat.


What is critical in advancing our nation’s technical prowess on ballistic missile defense is the strong support of testing to reduce risk and increase confidence to those that will use the system.  This testing validation and growth is even more magnified when projected to meet Presidential directives such as the European Phased Adaptive Approach, in which this SM3 Block 1B missile is scheduled to be deployed by in 37 U.S. Aegis ships and an Aegis Ashore site in Romania by 2015.  It is concerning that in this aggressive environment the testing budget for missile defense has been reduced by close to 25 percent, for many more tests are needed to implement President Obama’s missile defense policy as projected; if we do not increase testing and reduce risk, delays of promised protection to our allies and our nation made by our president will cause us to be vulnerable and viewed as disingenuous.


Early assumptions from this test suggest that the Aegis 4.0.1 processor worked brilliantly, as did the telemetry, tracking, and surveillance data, which will provide greater ability for future simulation and ground testing as well as detailed analysis to assist in the review of the test.


Our gratitude and that of the American public for the hard work of the testing community goes to the Captain and crew of the USS Lake Erie, the support to those at the PMRF range, and to all those that contributed to designing these systems, culminating in an aggressive growth path full of risk and adversity that comes with being the best in the world at these advanced technologies in making our nation safe.

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