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Aegis Multiple-Target Test Fails Because Of Botched Setting

By | December 11, 2006

      No Systemic Flaw Seen

      An Aegis ballistic missile defense system test firing failed last week because of a bollixed system setting, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) reported.

      The human failure didn’t reflect any fundamental flaw in the Aegis weapons control system, which until then had a formidable record of seven hits out of eight tests. That glitch last week still leaves the record at seven successful hits out of nine attempts.

      News of the test failure came as a critic of ballistic missile defense programs, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), prepares to assume the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee next month.

      Levin has questioned both the cost of the various systems, running into the billions of dollars, as well as asking whether they will work reliably if an enemy launches a ballistic missile attack on the United States, its forces, its allies or its interests.

      At the same time, the push to create a ballistic missile shield has gained added impetus and urgency since North Korea fired a series of missiles in July, and then tested a nuclear weapon underground in October.

      While failure marred the test of the North Korean long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile, which would be capable of striking targets in North America, analysts say North Korea continues to develop the weapon.

      Meanwhile, in the United States, work advances on systems that someday would ensure no North Korean or other enemy missile would be able to strike the homeland.

      That Aegis system record of seven out of nine tests still is superior to records of some other BMD systems, which have suffered failures because of glitches or which have not completed development. For example, the Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system has experienced recent successes, but earlier faced disappointments such as a failure of support arms to retract from the interceptor missile before launch, leading to an automatic cancellation.

      This latest Aegis test offered a greater realism, in that it involved challenging MDA and the Navy to face two missiles simultaneously and annihilate both of them.

      Some lawmakers have pressed for greater realism in tests of the multi-layered ballistic missile defense program.

      In the test last week, the Aegis system was to detect and demolish both a longer-range ballistic missile, and at the same time to take out a shorter-range cruise missile.

      The ballistic missile test wasn’t completed due to an incorrect system setting aboard the Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70) prior to the launch of two interceptor missiles from the ship, according to MDA.

      That incorrect system configuration prevented the fire control system aboard the ship from launching the first of two interceptor missiles, MDA announced.

      Since a primary test objective was a near-simultaneous launch of two missiles against two different targets, the second interceptor missile intentionally wasn’t launched, MDA explained.

      The planned test was to involve the launch of a Standard Missile 3 against a ballistic missile target and a Standard Missile 2 against a surrogate aircraft target.

      The ballistic missile target was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, and the aircraft target was launched from a Navy aircraft.

      The Lake Erie, along with the USS Hopper (DDG 70) and the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate TROMP, were successful in detecting and tracking their respective targets. Both targets fell into the ocean as planned.

      After a thorough review, MDA and the Navy will determine a new test date, MDA stated. None has yet been scheduled, a spokesman said.

      Aegis weapon control systems are provided by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT], while Raytheon Co. [RTN] provides the Standard Missile-3.

      The GMD system involves The Boeing Co. [BA] as prime, Raytheon for multiple types of radars, Lockheed and Orbital Science [ORB] for the ground based interceptor, and Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] for battle management command, control and communications.

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