U.S. Ballistic Missile Intercept Test Fails

A test last week of next-generation ballistic missile intercept technology ended unsuccessfully, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said (see GSN, March 31).

A mock short-range ballistic missile was fired at 3:53 a.m. local time on Thursday from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. A minute-and-a-half later, a Standard Missile 3 Block 1B interceptor was launched from the USS Lake Erie to take down the target. However, no intercept took place.

The SM-3 1B interceptor had not previously undergone a flight trial. The agency said in a press release it would carry out a thorough assessment to identify why the test failed.

Since 2001, there have been 27 sea-based intercept trials involving Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense technology. All but five of those trials were successful (U.S. Missile Defense Agency release, Sept. 1).

An unidentified Defense Department official told Aviation Week there had been a "good target" call when the dummy missile was launched from Hawaii. That would point to the test failure arising from the SM-3 1B or its communications with the USS Lake Erie.

The SM-3 1B is an enhanced version of the Standard Missile 3 Block 1A interceptor, which is presently fielded on U.S. warships sailing all over the globe. The augmented system is outfitted with a two-color infrared sensor to allow for improved differentiation of real missiles from decoys or other defensive mechanisms. The new interceptor also has an adjustable flight-control system that is intended to offer enhanced flight path flexibility.

Before Thursday’s test, manufacturer Raytheon had anticipated carrying out two flight trials each year of the new interceptor. That might change based on the amount of time the Pentagon takes to complete its investigation.

The test failure is also expected for the time being to slow discussions with European states on purchasing the SM-3 1B interceptors for use in a planned NATO ballistic missile shield (see related GSN story, today; Amy Butler, Aviation Week, Sept. 1).

September 6, 2011
About

A test last week of next-generation ballistic missile intercept technology ended unsuccessfully, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said (see GSN, March 31).