Missile-defense test failure linked to a single chip

From EETIMES: http://www.eet.com/sys/news/...

April 11, 2003

By Loring Wirbel

The failure of a U.S. missile-defense test in December was caused by the malfunction of a single chip that failed to signal a kill vehicle to separate from its booster rocket, according to an industry executive speaking at a space conference on Thursday (April 10).

The failed Ground-Based Midcourse Defense test was conducted by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Dec. 11. The faulty chip prevented an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle from separating from its booster, said Jack Kelble, president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems.

The disclosure came during a missile-defense panel at the National Space Symposium here. Kelble said the single-chip failure indicates that layers of systems must operate in unison in order to achieve an effective U.S. missile defense.

According to the Pentagon, each flight test costs an average of $100 million.

The test, coming just five days before presidential directive on speeding deployment of missile defenses, was unique. It included the use of Navy Aegis cruisers and a Boeing 747 modified as the Airborne Laser Lab. Both were used as trackers for the Minuteman II ICBM launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., as a target missile.

The interceptor and its booster were launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. The failure of the single mixed-signal device prevented the kill vehicle from separating from its booster in mid-course.

Flexible testing

Brig. Gen. Henry Obering, program director for battle management command and control at Missile Defense Agency, said upgraded facilities at Vandenberg and at a new U.S. launch complex at Kodiak, Alaska, will permit more flexibility in the mid-course testing.

Interceptors and targets will soon be launched from Vandenberg while target rockets will be launched from the Kodiak Launch Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Targets may also be launched directly from C-17 transport aircraft, Obering said.

Air Force Col. Robert Kent Traylor, deputy director of space operations and integration, said missile-defense planners need to start thinking about pre-emptive strikes on missile fields as a key element of missile defense. Boost-phase and terminal-phase missile defense would be less crucial if counter-air assaults could be used to take out intermediate and intercontinental missile capabilities in advance, he said.

"The Air Force views active missile defense as a missed opportunity for counter-air operations," Traylor said. "A JDAM (Joint Direct Assault Munition) may be an easier way to take out a target than a bullet hitting a bullet."

Traylor's comments reflect the Bush administration's pre-emptive force doctrine that calls for striking targets before they can strike the United States. Critics warn that such an approach could destablilize the current military balance.

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