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Missile Kill Vehicle's Future Said to Ride on Next Week's Test

The future prospects of a second-generation kinetic kill vehicle will hang on the outcome of a missile-intercept attempt next week, a key figure says.

Vice Adm. James Syring, who heads the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, on Wednesday said that if a problem with the so-called "CE-2" Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle causes a June 22 test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System to fail, the military would have to reevaluate using the component in a new batch of strategic interceptors planned for fielding in Alaska, Reuters reported.

The CE-2 model has failed in both of the two intercept attempts that have been conducted to date using the technology. However, a non-intercept flight test in early 2013 gave the Missile Defense Agency hope that performance problems with the cutting-edge technology had been corrected.

"If it was another kill vehicle problem, which would now make us 0 for 3 in this design, I think you would see us taking a step back and assess taking delivery of the EKV that we're planning to take upon a successful flight test," Syring told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

Syring said the Missile Defense Agency would not take receipt of any new Ground Based Interceptors unless the June intercept test goes well.

Skeptics of U.S. long-range missile defense efforts have accused the agency of staging tests that do not reflect likely real-world scenarios. The MDA head told the Senate panel that the test later this month would involve an "operationally realistic scenario."

"It is very operational and realistic in terms of a threat that we may face from North Korea," the vice admiral said, according to a hearing transcript. "There are range limitations, obviously, in terms of our ability to test across the entire Pacific Ocean, but we are testing at thousands of kilometers at very high intercepted velocities."

He also said the test would involve unspecified "countermeasures" designed to confuse U.S. missile defenses.

Concerns about Pyongyang's progress in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile prompted the Pentagon last year to announce plans to expand the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System by 14 new interceptors. There are presently 30 interceptors deployed as part of the system in Alaska and California.

Plans to acquire a new long-range radar to improve the detection of threats originating from North Korea are ongoing, Syring said. Those studies are focusing on where the radar should be deployed and what capabilities it should have, he said.

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