News / Science & Technology

Report: US Should Consider Redesign of Missile Defense System

FILE - U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
FILE - U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Reuters
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency should consider redesigning a key part of its ground-based missile defense system after a series of test failures in recent years, the Pentagon's chief arms tester said in a new report due to be released Wednesday.
 
“The flight test failures that have occurred during the past three years raise questions regarding the robustness of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV),” said the report, referring to the Raytheon-built part of the rocket used to hit enemy missiles and destroy them on impact.
 
Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), said the agency should redo the intercept test that failed last July and consider whether to redesign the “kill vehicle” and shore it up against failure.
 
Boeing manages the Pentagon's program to deal with long-range missile threats, while Raytheon and Orbital Sciences Corp. build the interceptors and rockets used by the system.
 
Gilmore's report, which circulated in Washington on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's release, drew praise from two groups that closely track developments on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system designed by Boeing.
 
“It appears that DOT&E has finally come to the conclusion that the GMD interceptors... may be so flawed that a complete redesign is required,” said Kingston Reif, with the nonprofit Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
 
He said neither of the two current versions of the so-called “kill vehicle” designed by Raytheon had seen a successful flight intercept test since 2008.
 
Reif said Gilmore's latest report raised questions about the Boeing-run missile defense system, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's plan to build and deploy 14 more existing ground based interceptors, which have the older “kill vehicles,” in Alaska at a cost of $1 billion.
 
Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said redesigning the “kill vehicle” was “worth the time and investment it will take to create it, develop it and test it,” given America's need to defend against possible enemy missile attacks.
 
He said he expects the Pentagon's fiscal 2015 budget plan to ask for $560 million in funding over the next five years to develop a new kill vehicle, with an eye to starting their use in 2019. Additional funding would be needed to upgrade and fix the existing interceptors in the meantime, he added.
 
“It is the right thing to do the due diligence, effort and engineering to make this missile as good as our nation can with today's technologies and research,” Ellison said.
 
Nuclear-armed Russia has said it fears a Western anti-missile shield in Europe is meant to undermine its security, upsetting the post-Cold War strategic balance. Efforts to turn years of confrontation over the issue into cooperation have failed.

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by: MikeBarnett from: USA
January 29, 2014 4:22 PM
The "ground-based missile defense system" that uses an "Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV)" must pass through earth's atmosphere to reach space, so damage to the EKV or its space launch platform during the aerodynamic phase of the flight can occur. It can also fail to reach the correct location for launching the EKV against its target.

Satellites rarely require immediate course corrections to collide with objects, so adjustments can be made after greater study. EKV's must strike their targets before those targets hit the US, so the possibility of missing the target is greater, and it increases if the EKV has sustained damage to the control systems or to the EKV itself during launch, its trip through the atmosphere, or in space. However, the US has been working on defense problems since the beginning of nuclear missile programs in the 1950's, and the US still does not have a defensive system that works.
In Response

by: K from: M
January 30, 2014 2:32 PM
Damage during launch and ascent of any missile/payload system can of course occur, however this aspect of rocketry is well understood. No GMD flight test has failed due to damage to EKV during ascent, so that point is still irrelevant.
"Satellites rarely require immediate course correction to collide with objects..."??? How will a satellite or or any object in orbit be able to strike a target that is itself moving at speeds of several km per second, without immediate correction? That statement makes little sense.

by: MikeBarnett from: USA
January 29, 2014 1:59 PM
The main problem is that air is not a vacuum. Air consists of particles. As the vehicle approaches ultra sonic speeds, it strikes the air particles and, effectively, attempts to disentegrate itself by smashing into them. There is a limit to the speeds that vehicles can attain when they travel through the air in controlled flights that are designed to intercept other objects. The alternatives may be space-based weapons that would violate certain treaties or particle beam weapons that would require vast amounts of energy to remain on standby. Both alternatives would be costly for launching and maintaining space vehicles or for producing the vast amounts of energy that must be kept on standby and not used for business or residential customers.

The most cost effective solution would be a military alliance between the US, NATO, Russia, China, and, perhaps India, all of whom are fighting against islamic insurgencies and will continue to do so for many years into the future. This would also buy time to resolve technical issues should the US and NATO choose to continue a cold war after reducing their islamic insurgencies to manageable levels.
In Response

by: k from: m
January 29, 2014 2:38 PM
FYI, the system under discussion in the article operates outside the earth's atmosphere, hence your discussion of aerodynamic drag is irrelevant to flight test failures.

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