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Pentagon successful with latest missile-defense test off Pacific

January 28, 2013|By W.J. Hennigan
  • The Missile Defense Agency carried out a successful flight test of a ground-based missile defense system from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The Missile Defense Agency carried out a successful flight test of a ground-based… (U.S. Missile Defense Agency )

The Missile Defense Agency breathed a sigh of relief after carrying out a successful flight test of an interceptor missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara.

Saturday's test was on the Boeing-designed ground-based defense system's ability to defend the U.S. from the threat of ballistic missile attacks.

It involved the launch of a three-stage interceptor from a silo on the base at 2 p.m. PST.  After blastoff, the booster deployed the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle made by Raytheon Co. to a designated point in space.

Once separated from the booster, the kill vehicle executed a variety of preplanned maneuvers to collect performance data in space. 

The test did not involve a dummy target missile to intercept.

“If a target missile were present, the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle would collide directly with the threat warhead to perform a hit-to-kill intercept,” the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement. “Engineering data from this test will be used to improve confidence for future intercept missions.”

The kill vehicle is designed to lock on and eliminate high-speed ballistic missile warheads in space using nothing more than the sheer force of impact, known as a “hit-to-kill” defense, according to Raytheon.

Although the mission was deemed successful, the Missile Defense Agency has had a mixed record with the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System in the past.

Flight testing of the system was halted in early 2011 after a guidance error resulted in a failed intercept in a December 2010 test.

"Returning to flight has been the top priority for the … program. We have used industry and government's combined expertise to solve a complex technical issue related to what the interceptor's Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle experiences in space,” Boeing program director Norm Tew said in a statement. “Today's success is an important step toward our next goal of a successful intercept test."

The Missile Defense Agency did not say when the next test would take place.

In a statement, the agency said: "This test is the critical first step in returning ... to successful intercept testing."

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