Missile Defense in Trouble? Why This 1 Test Was Delayed 13 Years

David Axe

Key point: Without tests, and realistic tests at that, Americans have no way of knowing how safe they are from ballistic missile threats.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) isn’t testing its most powerful missile-interceptor enough, the Government Accountability Office claimed in a June 2019 report. The military bumped back one key trial multiple times over a period of 13 years.

Equally troubling, many of the tests the MDA is conducting aren’t very realistic, the watchdog agency explained in its report. Laura Grego, a missile-defense expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Massachusetts, called the GAO report “remarkable.”

The GAO focused its attention on the Flight Test Ground-Based Interceptor 11 test, or FTG-11. That test, which took place in March 2019, involved a salvo of two Ground-Based Midcourse Defense missiles (GMD), which the United States has deployed in order to destroy nuclear-armed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles heading for North America.

The MDA attempted its first trial interception with the GMD system in 1999.

Twenty years later on March 25, 2019, the target rocket in FTG-11 blasted off from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Space, ground- and sea-based sensors tracked the target. Four thousand miles away, missileers at the GMD site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California launched two 50-feet-tall Ground-Based Intercept missiles.

Kill vehicles separated -- in essence, non-exploding warheads -- separated from the GMI missiles and broke free of Earth's atmosphere. There at the edge of space, the kill vehicles reportedly met the incoming target rocket.

"This test was the first salvo engagement of a threat-representative ICBM target by two Ground Based Interceptors, which were designated GBI-Lead, and GBI-Trail for the test," the Missile Defense Agency stated.

“The GBI-Lead destroyed the reentry vehicle, as it was designed to do. The GBI-Trail then looked at the resulting debris and remaining objects, and, not finding any other reentry vehicles, selected the next 'most lethal object' it could identify and struck that, precisely as it was designed to do."

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