Missile Interceptor Fails to Take Down Target

A U.S. missile defense test over the Pacific Ocean yesterday ended unsuccessfully when the long-range interceptor was unable to eliminate its intermediate-range ballistic missile target, Reuters reported (see GSN, Feb. 2).

"The Missile Defense Agency was unable to achieve a planned intercept of a ballistic missile target during a test over the Pacific Ocean," MDA spokesman Richard Lehner said in a statement without addressing possible causes for the failure.

This was the second successive failed test this year of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system -- the United States' only protection from a long-range ballistic missile attack. A test at the end of January also ended without missile interception due to problems with the radar equipment. The missile defense system has had mixed success in testing, with seven of 15 attempted missile intercepts to date ending in failure, as judged by the Missile Defense Agency.

"This is a tremendous setback for the testing of this complicated system," Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance leader Riki Ellison said in shared comments. The test failure leads to doubts about the dependability of the approximately 30 land-based missile interceptors fielded at military bases in California and Alaska, he said.

Yesterday's test initially went according to plan as the target missile launched from the Marshall Islands and the nterceptor flew from from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to the agency. Sea-based radar equipment operated as desired, while the interceptor was able to fire off its "kill vehicle" at the target but failed to hit the missile.

The MDA statement said the agency would carry out a thorough assessment to identify what was behind the test failure. Only after a cause has been found would another test of the system be scheduled.

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system was developed to eliminate a small number of long-range ballistic missiles that could be carrying nuclear, chemical or biological weapons payloads. The system has components based on land, at sea and in space.

Washington has allocated more than $10 billion annually in recent budgets for various antimissile efforts (Jim Wolf, Reuters/Yahoo!News, Dec. 15).

December 16, 2010
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A U.S. missile defense test over the Pacific Ocean yesterday ended unsuccessfully when the long-range interceptor was unable to eliminate its intermediate-range ballistic missile target, Reuters reported (see GSN, Feb. 2).