25 March 2019
Missile-Defense Test Involves Pair of Launches from Vandenberg AFB
By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor


Missile Defense Agency representatives say the double-launch test successfully hit the target

Twin contrails are visible Monday after a missile-defense test involving two launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A missile-defense test involving two interceptor launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base occurred Monday amid an unusual veil of secrecy, but successfully hit the target.

At approximately 10:30 a.m., two ground-based missile-defense interceptors, blasted off from underground silos on North Base, leaving parallel contrails visible in the skies above Santa Maria. 

Earlier, a mock target, representing an intercontinental ballistic missile, had launched from the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean approximately 4,000 miles southwest of Santa Barbara County.

Vandenberg and Missile Defense Agency representatives remained mum about the upcoming test, although these missile-defense launches have been announced ahead of time for decades.

The test involved the Ground-based Midcourse Defense segment which is designed to defend against a limited long-range missile attack.

This test was the first salvo, or double, engagement of a threat-representative ICBM target by two Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI), which were designated GBI-Lead, and GBI-Trail for Monday's mission.

�The GBI-Lead destroyed the reentry vehicle, as it was designed to do,� MDA officials said Monday afternoon. �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.�

Late Monday afternoon, MDA officials said "initial indications show the test met requirements," but added that program officials would continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test.

�This was the first GBI salvo intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target, and it was a critical milestone,� said MDA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves. �The system worked exactly as it was designed to do, and the results of this test provide evidence of the practicable use of the salvo doctrine within missile defense.

�The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,� Greaves said.

In addition to hosting most of the previous flight tests, Vandenberg is home to four GMD interceptors with 40 others positioned at Fort Greely, Alaska.

The odd sight of two contrails startled some spectators who routinely see the signs of just-launched rockets and missiles from the base.

Boeing representatives called the �two-shot salvo� engagement historic.

�The data collected from this test will enhance missile defense for years to come and solidify confidence in the system,� said Paul Smith, Boeing vice president and program director, Ground-based Midcourse Defense. �We continue to increase the system�s reliability as the U.S. government plans to expand the number of interceptors protecting the country.�

Minutes after the launches, a Vandenberg Public Affairs representative only confirmed a missile test occurred but remained tight-lipped about details and said the Defense Department would release information later Monday. 

For Monday's test, an array of space, ground and sea-based missile-defense sensors across the the country provided real-time target acquisition and tracking data to the Command, Control, Battle Management and Communication (C2BMC) system.

The two GBIs were then launched and the exo-atmospheric kill vehicles successfully engaged the target complex, resulting in an intercept of the mock warhead.

The previously missile-defense test at Vandenberg, involving one interceptor, ended succeessfully in May 2017.

It's been approximately four decades since Vandenbrg has seen two launches at the same time. However, the base has conducted unarmed missile tests within hours of each other in the 25 years.

The secrecy surrounding Monday's test hearkens back to the Cold War when Vandenberg launches occurred without official advanced notice. While the military kept the U.S. residents in the dark, the U.S. notified international governments so they did not mistake a rocket launch or missile test for an attack. 

Monday's test involved the system to protect the United States from missile launches fired by rogue nations.

Vandenberg also conducts tests of offensive weapon systems, unarmed Minuteman III missiles, to gather information abou the ICBM fleet's accuracy and reliability.

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