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GMD Interceptor Test Blocked By Sluggish Target Missile

By | May 28, 2007

      Test To Be Reset For Summer; Congress Still Mulls European Site

      Just as Congress is weighing whether to cut funding for a Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) site in Europe, the GMD system was robbed of a chance to take down a target ballistic missile when the aging target failed to reach sufficient altitude.

      The interceptor test was canceled, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced.

      MDA will reschedule the test for sometime this summer by accelerating a test that was set for sometime in the fall.

      At that time, Congress still may be considering defense authorization and appropriations bills including money for the GMD system and other ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs, to fund the Department of Defense in the fiscal year ending Sept.30, 2008. (Please see full Senate panel story in this issue.)

      The House earlier passed its version of the defense authorization bill, which would kill all $160 million for beginning work on missile silos for a potential third site of the GMD system in Poland. The first two GMD sites are in Alaska and California.

      Proponents of installing a European GMD system — a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland — say it is needed, urgently, to guard against ballistic missiles from Middle Eastern nations such as Iran that would be targeted against European nations, U.S. troops there, or the United States.

      Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee, argued that the $160 million cut was appropriate because the GMD system involved a less mature, high-risk BMD development effort, adding that funds should go instead toward more fully developed BMD systems.

      She called for “reductions … for the third BMD site which the [Bush] administration has proposed building in Eastern Europe.”

      But GMD proponents hope to reverse the $160 million cut to the program when the Senate begins work on defense authorization legislation, and also to reverse the anti-third-site move in the separate defense appropriations bill that provides the actual dollars for MDA and other defense programs, when the House and Senate appropriating committees write the legislation.

      Because the GMD test never occurred Friday — the interceptor never was fired from Vandenberg — it is unclear whether opponents of forming the third GMD site in Europe would attempt to use the problem with the target missile to argue that there is some sort of problem with the interceptor system.

      That target missile failed to reach the correct location and altitude to pose as a threat that the GMD system could attack, according to MDA.

      Because of the target missile malfunction, the event was termed a “no test” by MDA, since the interceptor missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., never was launched.

      Program officials will probe just what problem caused the unsatisfactory performance by the target missile after its launch from Kodiak Island, Alaska, but the target was an aging piece of equipment.

      The target missile was an old Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, or ICBM.

      Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, III, MDA director, said target missiles are undergoing a modernization to lessen chances of their failing again.

      The MDA has conducted 16 of 17 successful flight tests since 2005 and has achieved 27 of 34 successful intercepts since 2001, the agency noted.

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