American Forces Press Service

Fifth National Missile Defense test flight slated

Released: 7 Jul 2000

by Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Pentagon-based reporters will be pulling a late shift here July 7, standing by for the results of the fifth test flight of a prototype National Missile Defense system.

The system being designed to protect the United States from a limited intercontinental ballistic missile attack, consists of ground-based interceptors, command, control and communication, X-band radars and upgraded early warning radars.

Defense officials are slated to conduct the fully integrated test flight between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. EST, Pentagon spokesman Adm. Craig Quigley said at a July 6 news conference. Sometime within that four-hour window -- depending on the weather -- Air Force officials will launch a modified Minuteman target missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., he said.

"We give ourselves that four-hour window so that the fog at Vandenberg can dissipate," he said. "If we wait 30 minutes and the safety controllers at Vandenberg have that visual on the missile, we're good to go."

About 20 minutes later, about 4,300 miles away at Kwajalein Atoll in the (Pacific's) Marshall Islands, another missile will launch the interceptor. "Ten minutes after that, about one hundred miles above the Pacific," he said, "we anticipate the hit-to-kill technology intercepting the target from Vandenberg."

The test is designed to demonstrate the ability of the exoatmospheric kill vehicle, or EKV, to intercept the target. The kill vehicle is the bullet of the weapon system in the NMD architecture. Using a hit-to-kill concept, it destroys a target using only kinetic energy or the force of impact.

This is the fifth test, but only the third intercept attempt, Quigley noted. The first succeeded in intercept, and the second attempt failed. Like the earlier tests, and 16 more to come, the latest test is important, Quigley stressed, in that it tests the NMD technology as a package.

"It is designed to test the feasibility of the comprehensive, integrated system ... of both detection, command, control and communications; the radars themselves; the kill vehicles themselves; the process, the flow of information and human beings and decision-making processes in the loop."

Following the test, there will be about a seven- to ten-day "data reduction period" where military officials will look at all aspects of the test in great detail, Quigley said. In 30 days, Air Force officials will present a Deployment Readiness Review to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

"In the weeks ahead, the secretary will make his DRR recommendation to the president and the president will then make his decision later on this fall," he said. If the president were to give the program the green light it would be operational in fiscal 2005.

The 20-year life cycle cost of the National Missile Defense System is estimated at $38 billion. Each flight test costs $100 million.