Japanese Aegis Missile Defense Test Fails

Jammed Valve On Interceptor Kill Vehicle May Have Caused It To Miss Target Missile

A jammed valve on a tiny maneuvering thruster in a Standard Missile-3 Block 1A interceptor kill vehicle likely caused the SM-3 to miss killing a target missile, in a test involving a Japanese anti-missile ship, according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA).

The thruster didn’t make adjustments in the interceptor course and direction with sufficient speed to make the intercept and kill, according to MDAA.

However, a press release from the Missile Defense Agency said the SM-3 lost track of the target missile just seconds before impacting it for a successful kill.

In a real-world situation facing an actual incoming enemy missile, the ballistic missile defense (BMD) system would be able to fire up to three more interceptors at the threat to kill it, MDAA noted.

Further, as the United States advances development of its multi-layered BMD system, radar sensors on the different anti-missile shields will be linked together to form a much more effective overall system that will be even more likely to kill incoming missiles, Riki Ellison, MDAA chairman and founder, predicted.

Even with the failure in the latest Japanese ship test, missile defense tests have rolled up overwhelming successes, against a few failures.

In the latest test, an Aegis BMD test by the Japanese destroyer Chokai (DDG 176) ended in failure when the Standard Missile-3 Block 1A interceptor failed to hit the target missile.

The Chokai and its crew performed well throughout the test, and the SM-3 also performed flawlessly through its first three stages, according to Rear Adm. Brad Hicks, the U.S. Navy Aegis ballistic missile defense program director. He spoke with several defense journalists in a teleconference around midnight ET Wednesday-Thursday, after the test in the area of the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii.

That interceptor was an older asset that soon would have been pulled from service because of its age, he said.

This was the second Aegis BMD test failure in less than a month.

In an earlier test, a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60) used an SM-3 to successfully hit a target missile, but then the USS Hopper (DDG 70), also using an SM- 3, failed to hit its target.

There also have been two earlier Aegis tests with failures, including one in December 2006 that didn’t destroy the target because of a bollixed system setting.

These latest two failures come as some Democrats in Congress are poised to cut spending on missile defense programs when they convene next year to consider the Missile Defense Agency budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010. Next year will be the first occasion that Democrats have controlled all three centers of power — the White House, Senate and House — since 1993-94.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif,), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee, with oversight of missile defense programs, said missile defense programs will receive hard and long scrutiny next year.

Recently she told Space & Missile Defense Report that she has serious questions about the value of missile defense programs.

No rogue nations have been dissuaded by formation of the U.S. missile defense shield from continuing to develop long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, she commented.

"The truth is, is that it hasn’t caused anybody to stop doing what they’re doing," she said. "And if it hasn’t done that, then holy moly, what’s the point" of developing missile defenses?

"It’s like a Hollywood set," she said. "It’s like a facade. And if it can only work by appointment only, then it isn’t what it was advertised to be." (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, November 17, 2008.)

Meanwhile, President-elect Obama has said the nation needs missile defense, but he demands proof that missile defense systems will work, as a condition of further funding.

Still, in the coming money debates next year, missile defense advocates will be able to point out that even including the Hopper and Chokai failures, the record for the Aegis tests is lopsided 16 successful hits demolishing target missiles out of 20 attempts.

Those successes included the first Japanese attempt. The Japanese destroyer Kongo (DDG 173) successfully used its SM-3 interceptor to kill a target missile. The difference in tests is that the Kongo crew was advised beforehand when the target missile would be launched, while the Chokai crew wasn’t.

Hicks, noting he formerly commanded a cruiser, observed that a record of 16 successes out of 20 attempts is a strong performance. "We have a great record," he said.

He said a board will be convened to examine why the latest test failed. Hicks declined to speculate on why the SM-3 interceptor missed the target. "I’m confident we’ll find out the root cause" of the Choikai interceptor failure to score a hit, he said.

However, he was asked by Space & Missile Defense Report whether the prior SM-3 successes make it unlikely the Chokai failure stems from some basic design flaw in all SM-3s, and whether it is more likely that the Chokai SM-3 failed because of some flaw or glitch in just that one interceptor.

Hicks said that is likely.

"Obviously, we believe this is hopefully related to this one interceptor," and doesn’t reflect any basic design flaw in the SM-3 interceptors, he said.

The Chokai test failure cost Japan a $55 million loss, he said, adding, "It wasn’t cheap."

At the same time, that doesn’t mean Japan is losing faith in the system. Rather, the Chokai is making a port call at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to pick up more SM-3s.

Japan wishes to obtain missile defense capabilities in the face of a belligerent North Korea, which in the 1990s fired a missile that arced over Japan before landing in the sea.

Further, North Korea has developed nuclear weapons and tested one successfully underground, and Pyongyang also has tested multiple missiles in a salvo launch. The reclusive regime also is developing the Taepo Dong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking targets in the United States. And North Korea also has opened a new missile launch facility in the northwestern area of the peninsular nation.

Further, China — a long-time rival of Japan — is arming itself heavily, with 1,400 missiles pointed at Taiwan, and many longer-range missiles deployed, up to and including land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles with ranges of about 7,000 miles, and nuclear submarines able to launch missiles with ranges of almost 5,000 miles.

During the press briefing, Hicks himself strongly endorsed the SM-3 interceptor, observing that "this is the same [one] we used to bring down the satellite."

That referred to an operation in which the Aegis system on a Navy ship was modified to kill an out-of-control dysfunctional U.S. intelligence satellite carrying a tank filled with toxic hydrazine fuel that could have injured people if the satellite crashed to Earth in a populous area.

In the Chokai test, the target missile was launched from Barking Sands, and about three minutes later the Chokai crew had spotted the target, the Aegis system had developed a tracking and hit solution, and the SM-3 interceptor was launched.

The first, second and third stages of the interceptor performed nominally, without problems, but then came the fourth stage. The nosecone components opened to expose the kill vehicle area, and somehow the program to track the target missile failed.

"It lost track," Hicks said, only seconds before the hit would have been achieved.

If the kill had occurred, it would have been about 100 nautical miles (roughly 115 statute miles) above Earth, and some 250 miles away from Barking Sands, Hicks said.

It took the interceptor about two minutes flight time to reach the near miss with the target missile.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton was nearby watching the test. The Hamilton Aegis system successfully spotted and tracked the target, and developed a simulated solution and simulated interceptor launch that, if it had been real, would have resulted in a successful hit on the target, Hicks said. The Hamilton didn’t cue the Chokai, however. "It was strictly Chokai’s engagement," Hicks said.

Japan, in selecting the Aegis/SM-3 sea-based system for four Japanese ships, can become interoperable with U.S. Navy missile defense ships.

Americans are installing the advanced Aegis/SM system on 18 Navy ships, with plans to install the system on scores more destroyers and cruisers.

"Coupled with the U.S. forward-based X-band radar deployed in Japan and the Patriot-3 units deployed in the region, this provides a layered defense that can provide multiple shots, thus increasing the overall effectiveness of missile defense in this region if one of these missiles failed, as [was] the case" in the Chokai test, Ellison said.

While the U.S. Navy didn’t coach or guide the Chokai, leaving the Japanese ship to take on the target missile on its own, U.S. systems did monitor the test.

"The United States mirrored the test independently by continuing to validate its sensors and systems such as the [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] THAAD radar and the USS Paul Hamilton as they went through … detection, tracking, discrimination [of the target,] and putting together firing solutions on a live target ballistic missile," Ellison stated.

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