Testing of National Missile Defense interceptor systems is slated to resume on Monday 13 January with the second launch of a Multi-Service Launch System (MSLS) rocket [a modified three-stage Minuteman II] from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. This booster will carry a target complex that will be observed by the first flight of a prototype Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle [EKV], launched from the Kwajalein Missile Range on a Payload Launch Vehicle (PLV), a booster consisting of Minuteman II second and third stages.
No intercept of the target will be attempted in this initial test, or in a second test currently planned for this March. Target interceptions will be attempted in flight tests currently slated to begin in 1998.
This is the first flight test of a National Missile Defense Interceptor in nearly five years, when in early 1992 the second demonstration of the Exoatmospheric Reentry-vehicle Interceptor Subsystem (ERIS) missed the target in a test flight over the mid-Pacific Ocean. The first ERIS test flight occurred on January 28, 1991, and resulted in a successful intercept.
The GBI project has been structured as a deployment readiness program using an evolutionary acquisition strategy to develop and demonstrate the NMD interceptor capability. The emphasis is on an earlier demonstration of NMD system capability, which requires development not only of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle [EKV], but also of a booster capable of NMD performance.
In addition, the competitive EKV approaches are carried through an intercept fly-off to reduce risk. Specifically, an Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) will be developed and flight tested which can accomplish intercepts of high speed, long range Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) reentry vehicles (RVs) in the midcourse of their trajectories. The project will develop an interceptor capable of acquiring a threat cluster from information supplied by midcourse sensors, selecting the RV, and destroying it by force of impact (kinetically) outside the earth's atmosphere. The interceptor must be able to combine NMD sensor information with the scene its on-board seeker observes and select the lethal object for its target. If insufficient information is available from the rest of the NMD system, the interceptor must also be able to determine the lethal object through on-board discrimination and target selection.
The initial focus of GBI development remains the front end of the missile, the EKV. However, a four-year booster development effort will begin in FY98 to support integrated NMD system demonstrations beginning in FY01. Until booster development is complete, kill vehicle flight tests will be flown using the Payload Launch Vehicle (PLV), a booster consisting of Minuteman II second and third stages.
EKV sensor flight tests, scheduled in FY97, will mitigate EKV risk by demonstrating two things that cannot be duplicated on the ground: seeker operation in the tactical environment, and target selection algorithm performance against realistic targets and backgrounds.
EKV intercept flights will incrementally demonstrate NMD system capability, beginning with a limited BM/C3 operating on-line. The first tests will be a competitive fly-off in FY98, followed by a down select to one contractor. By FY99, the flight tests will demonstrate NMD interoperability between the EKV, on-line BM/C3, and on-line medium/long wavelength infrared (M/LWIR) Space and Missile Tracking System (SMTS) Flight Demonstration System.
At least eight flight tests are planned over a six year period:
1 - The U.S. Air Force successfully launched the first Multi-Service Launch System (MSLS) rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA on 27 September 1996 The MSLS is a refurbished three-stage Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a new front section. Lockheed Martin Astronautics designed and built the new front section and associated flight hardware for the MSLS and provides launch services under contract to the U.S. Air Force Test and Evaluation Directorate, Space & Missile Systems Center, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The first mission successfully demonstrated the capability required to support future ballistic missile experiments.
2 - Integrated Flight Test (IFT)-1) - This first EKV experiment for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) was originally planned for November 1996, but slipped to January 1997 due to a variety minor technical problems. In this test, an MSLS rocket launched a suite of targets while another small rocket [ the the Payload Launch Vehicle (PLV) ] launched from the Kwajalein test range in the South Pacific carryied a prototype sensor designed to discriminate between the targets. The Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) sensors are launched on a northerly trajectory from Meck Island. The GBI sensors obtain data on NMD targets to address target signatures and functional performance objectives prior to GBI intercept missions.
3 - The second EKV sensor flight test (IFT-2) is planned for 14 March 1997, with subsequent work this year including the completion of data analysis, and incorporate any required changes in preparation for the competitive FY98 flight tests to support the Ground Based Interceptor element of the BMDO National Missile Defense program.
4 - EKV intercept flight experiment (IFT-3) in FY98
5 - EKV intercept flight experiment (IFT-4) in FY98
6 - NMD System Flight Test #5 [SFT-5] with EKV, BM/C3 in line, Ground Based Radar (GBR); Upgraded Early Warning Radars (UEWRS) and MWIR Space and Missile Tracking System (SMTS) on line 4Q/FY99
7 - NMD System Flight Test #6 [SFT-6] with EKV, BM/C3 RTD in line, GBR, EWR and MWIR SMTS on line 3Q/FY00
8 - NMD System Flight Test #7 [SFT-7] with EKV and In-flight target Update (IFTU)/ 3Q/FY01
Although the near-term elements of this flight test plan reflect significant delays from the February 1994 baseline, these have resulted in a more compressed schedule that completes the initial test flights in the originally projected timeframe, representing a roughly two-year delay in the first flight test [the upcoming flight] and a six-month schedule slippage in the third test flight engaging a target.