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DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. O'Reilly From the Pentagon

Presenters: Director, Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O'Reilly
December 05, 2008
Note: Slides to accompany this briefing can be found here:
 
            BRYAN WHITMAN: Well, good afternoon, almost evening. It's good to see such a large crowd. Maybe we should do more briefings on Friday evenings.
 
            Q:     No.
 
            MR. WHITMAN: (Laughs.) I have one vote for no.  (Laughs.)
 
            Well, thank you for joining us. Again, this is -- we try not to schedule things at this -- at this hour, but this was an important missile test that was conducted today and we thought that you'd want to know about the results immediately. Today, the Missile Defense Agency did complete an important flight test involving successful intercept using the ground-based intercept missile system, a mid-course test. And with us today to brief some of the details and the significance of this and the overall program is Lieutenant General Patrick O'Reilly, who is the new director of the ballistic – the Missile Defense Agency. He'll brief you on the details of the test today. 
 
            Also joining us in case there are any policy issues that arise in your questions, we have with us the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategic Capabilities, Mr. Brian Green and he will address any questions as they relate to policy. But I think what we'd like to try to focus on this evening is the test that was conducted this afternoon and to do that, General O'Reilly, thank you for being with us and welcome to the briefing room for the first time. We hope that there'll certainly be many more times as we go through this important program, so thank you.
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Thank you very much. Thank you.
 
            Good afternoon, or as Mr. Whitman said, almost good evening. What I would like to do is go over exactly what happened this afternoon. At 1504 Eastern time, a little after 3:00, we launched a target out of Kodiak, Alaska and it did end up, 29 minutes later, with an intercept off of California using a ground-based mid-course defense system, the Aegis system, some of our satellite systems and our early warning radar system in Sacramento and also using a forward-based radar that we had located in Juneau, Alaska for today's test only.
 
            First, I'd like to show you the different components of the test, if we could show the footage please. This is a shot of actually the test that occurred in July. It's the same target that occurred today and it launched out of Kodiak. It traveled 3,000 kilometers at the time of the intercept. And this is PAVE PAWS; it's our early warning radar. It's been upgraded for missile defense purposes, south of Sacramento. And this is the forward-based X-band radar which was located in Juneau, Alaska today for today's test -- temporary location, but it gave us a geometry which we were studying in seeing how it was tracking the target. 
 
            We also had to AEGIS ballistic missile defense ships. This is actually the Lake Erie, a cruiser. It wasn't part of today's test but the radars you see up front and such are -- did participate. We had the USS Higgins and the USS Benfold. And then finally, our sea-band -- or sea-based X-band radar was off of Baja, California, a couple hundred kilometers off of the -- off of Mexico. First chart, please?
 
            What we will show, again, is the configuration after it all is hooked up. Okay. Again, the next chart. This is the configuration of a test and as you can see, again, we launched out of Kodiak, Alaska. We had the USS Higgins up front and the forward-based X-band radar, two different types of radars. Both of them were tracking at the same time. But when the target got to about here, these two radars notified the Beale radar, which began to observe the rest of the flight. And when it reached about this point, the SBX -- it came into the view of the SBX and the USS Benfold.
 
            What is a first time event for this is we actually networked it together, all of the different sensors -- they're all different types of radars and different frequencies and sizes and geometries and were able to form one track, very accurate track. And combining all that together, we were able to launch the interceptor out of Fort Greely. The primary test … I mean, Vandenberg Air Force Base. Up at Fort Greely, though, was the first time we used the soldiers up there. We have two commanding control nodes for the system, one in Colorado Springs. And that's the one we've always used up till now. And today was the first time we had an intercept mission where the interceptor at Vandenberg was actually under the control of the whole system while it's at Fort Greely. And we can go back and forth and use both systems and we showed that again today with the Fort Greely command and control.
 
            The primary objective was to show that we could perform tracking discrimination with this network and intercept the target that actually had countermeasures on board. The second test objective was at the same time, using the same target, we used the networks to notify the Higgins, which watched the target come down as I said, but the Benfold actually went through a simulated intercept also. The ship performed all of the functions it normally would. It also ended with a successful launch command -- we didn't fly a missile -- but a launch command. We can go back and study that, and we have -- and it shows that the ship did everything it would have done to have a successful intercept. So we -- both the primary and secondary objectives were accomplished -- next chart -- except for one detail, and that was that the countermeasures did not deploy on this mission.   This happened two hours ago; we will study and find out why. 
 
            We did have the intercept, as we said; fuse sensor data. It was operationally realistic search fences. As I said, the soldiers and an airman were operating all parts of the system and so the system itself worked as designed and as expected. The SBX, again, first time we had operational software on that radar. And we also have a backup communication system at Vandenberg, which we exercised today. And it was the largest, most complex test we have ever done. Again, on the counter measure -- as a target, it's a series of targets we've used in the past. Countermeasures are very difficult to deploy. We have had trouble deploying them in the past. This is the last time we're particularly using that target and our next flight in March with Aegis we'll use a different target and so will the one -- the next flight of this system, which will be in the summer. Next chart.
 
            And this just shows a quick synopsis of what we have tested with GMD in the last two years. We had the first intercept -- or the second intercept, actually, in September '07 and we used -- as you can see here -- each of these different sensors, but they were not all netted, connected together, which was the difference today. Then this summer, we tested that target. The countermeasures did not deploy on that one too, again, emphasizing the difficulties in doing that. But we did network the sensors at that point, but we did not -- we had a simulated launch. And today we had the same network set up -- the same target -- and we did launch a target -- or an intercepter there -- and it ended up in an intercept. And this summer will be the first time we use a longer-range target. Today was 3,000 kilometers; the next time will be over 4,000 kilometers and it will actually be launched out of the Marshall Islands so that we can test the system against longer and longer ranges. And we will be using these sensor assets and it will ultimately launch a interceptor out of Vandenberg; and we leave it grayed out right here to indicate this hasn't happened yet, but yes, an intercept is intended on that one. Next chart.
 
            All right -- and we showed the footage of today's launch out of Vandenberg. As I said, the target was launched at 1504 and at 1523 Eastern Time, the target was in view and -- of the Beale radar and the other sensors, and we launched a ground-based interceptor. That's the first stage, and then it will show a separation. We'll have other data that will come over the next 24 hours -- the intercept occurred over 200 kilometers in altitude and 1,300 kilometers downrange from the launch point.
 
            At this point, I would like to open up to questions. Yes.
 
            Q     I wonder if you could tell, have you done a test where the countermeasures have deployed, so has the ground-based system taken out an interceptor that used countermeasures before?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Yes, it has; the prototype system. This system is the one where -- actually have deployed in Vandenberg and at Fort Greely. But this version of the system, first flight was in 2005, and this was the fifth flight, and this was the first time it was to see countermeasures very similar to the ones that we had used earlier in this decade, and we had successful intercepts with those.
 
            Q     Why is it hard for the target to -- why is it hard to deploy countermeasures, why did that fail?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Well, I can't get into the great detail, but I can say simply, countermeasures, you try to build them to be very lightweight so that they don't affect the original flight, but at the same time, you're traveling at about 10 kilometers a second, somewhere around there, around 15,000 miles an hour. So at that, at that and you're leaving the earth's atmosphere, and you're typically doing a lot of maneuvers at that point and at the same time you have to try to deploy two or three or four, whatever it is, lightweight objects. And that has been problematic on this particular target. The target itself is 40 years old, and it was one of some of our older missiles. Again, this was the last test using this particular target configuration, and we have a new target that is being assembled at this time by Lockheed Martin, that'll be tested in the spring with Aegis and then follow up with a GMD later on this summer in another test. And that will be a different countermeasure system, again, a newer one.
 
            Yes?
 
            Q     Can I just ask for the layman countermeasures, are we talking about decoys, would that be another way to describe them?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: That is one of the countermeasures you can have: you can have decoys, you could have chaff, you can have replicas. There's a whole litany of different types of things you could do.
 
            Q     And in this particular case can you tell us?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: I can't get into the details of the countermeasures.
 
            Q     Okay, and just one follow up: You said this was the largest, most complex test we have ever done. Is that across all the platforms or just particularly for this ground-based system?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: No, in fact it included all of the platforms. So yes, it is the most complex operationally -- the system itself was run as a total-operational system: soldiers actually operating, using the assets that we do -- that we use when we actually deploy the system. All of that -- the communications systems, the techniques, the procedures, the doctrine -- all of this was operated by soldiers who man the system every day and airmen that man the radars and the sailors out at sea. So we're using a fully operationally realistic system under test -- the system itself. Yes?
 
            Q     About the countermeasures: Can you explain -- I mean, I'm just curious -- if it's so hard to deploy the countermeasures, I mean, how are you trying to test countermeasures that exist -- wouldn't it be hard for adversaries to also deploy countermeasures? I mean what you know about the sort of feasibility of countermeasures to be used period, if you see what I'm getting at, you know, if it’s so hard to even test them? 
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: It is part of our test program to test against countermeasures, and we will in the future, we'll continue to; we'll start off with simplistic ones and you go to more and more complex. Our job is to characterize this system and to understand it thoroughly, so we keep presenting different scenarios to the system so we learn more and more about it. And so countermeasures is -- we test it so we can understand and verify and validate and prove the system's performance. That's why we use countermeasures, but it is a challenge, as I said, it's an engineering challenge in such to do that and we will continue. Every test after this, our plans have been to continue to use more and more sophisticated countermeasures, and each time we benchmark the system.
 
            Q     Just a quick follow-up: If you -- since you did not have that part of the test function today, what did you miss out on in terms of the learning that you did through this test? I mean, what new information has been gained from it, given that that whole piece of it didn't work?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: First of all, in order to take several different sensors and to have the different frequencies and such and it all present one object up there, if you didn't correlate the sensors with software and their processors and such, four different sensors would report four different objects, and that is significant -- would be significant problems to a missile defense system.
 
            What we showed today is all those sensors working together. At any one time the system knew which sensor was reporting what and tracking it, and it gave the warfighter one presentation of a target.
 
            We also -- so that was one tremendous accomplishment for us, it's -- to be able to do track correlation from all these different assets, and it also enables a layered missile defense system. If the first -- if a GMD system missed in an actual battle, then by what we've demonstrated today, the Aegis system would then be your next layer to intercept. We also collected data that we will run afterwards and simulate how the THAAD system would work.
 
            So for systems to work together, which is the core fundamental approach to our missile defense system, it relies on the fact that we -- each of the systems sees the exact same thing, and that's what we demonstrated today. That's one accomplishment.
 
            The second accomplishment is, even though the two countermeasures -- or the number of countermeasures we had up there, even though they didn't deploy, we actually had two objects up there; the upper stage of the missile we left in the field of view. So when the kill vehicle -- the actual intercept vehicle on board, it saw two objects. And it did have to understand what data passed to it from the different sensors across the western part of the hemisphere -- it did have to discern which object was, in fact, the RV -- the simulated RV -- and which object was the upper stage of the missile. They're very similar in size. And it did do that.
 
            Yes?
 
            Q     General, to that end, there are critics out there that say the interceptor can't really tell the difference between a warhead or a decoy. What do you have to say to those critics? And does this test dispel anything, even though the decoys didn't deploy?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Well, we use the actual flight test to anchor or to validate our simulations and models because it's very difficult and very expensive to run every different type of threat we could think of out there. So we have specific things we're trying to accomplish in a -- in this whole campaign of tests and the tests in the future.
 
            And so the system did perform as it -- as our models predicted, and our models show that the system does have capability against these different types of scenes that it would see as it goes into the last few seconds prior to an intercept.
 
            So our program or our process of testing is in order to validate those models. And again the models do give us confidence. But we have other testing to go, in the future, as we continue to validate the models. 
 
            Q     Is there any imagery of the actual intercept? 
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Yes. But due to the time right now, I don't know what the plans are of getting that data out. But it's IR imagery and other things we will show. It's a matter of processing. And it's just recently right after the test. 
 
            MR. WHITMAN:  (Off mike) We can get you the details. We are going to try feed that to you this evening, but we’ll get you the details of that after this.
 
            Q     Could you characterize this test overall, in view of the fact that the countermeasures didn't work? Was it still worthwhile? Or was it a big disappointment, because the countermeasures didn't work? Or how do you see the test overall? 
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Overall I'm extremely pleased, because again the foundation, the core of our missile defense system is the fact that we can operate in layers and have multiple systems working together. 
 
            So we are simultaneously with the Aegis system, the THAAD system, the GMD system and our future systems; the key to our protection and the effectiveness of the system is to be able to have all of these different sensors simultaneously tracking. And the system knows exactly that it's not multiple objects; it's one object up there or one cluster; exactly what it is. 
 
            And the kill vehicle was sent to a very accurate spot in space. And that does give us great confidence. And so yes, it is the first time we have ever done that in an actual test and with our soldiers operating it; sailors and airmen. 
 
            So there's many disparate parts of the system all working together, integrated for the first time. 
 
            So yes, that's a very significant success. We will know within 24 hours. We have a tremendous amount of telemetry of exactly where we hit the target, and we can then talk about the accuracy. We know we have confirmation we hit the target from several different sources, including the target itself has the capability of doing a burst transmission that says -- but we have to go through that right now.
 
            Q     And the kill vehicle is just a solid object, it's not an explosive charge. Is that correct?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: It's not an explosive charge. Most of it looks like a telescope, the front end of it. And it has a(n) attitude control system, small rocket motors on the back end. And it has a computer inside a processor and an antenna, and that's basically it. And it literally flies in front of the target itself and collides with it.
 
            Yes.
 
            Q     Now, still, does the fact that the countermeasures didn't deploy make this test less realistic compared to what could happen in case of an attack?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: There are -- there are many threats out there today that do not have countermeasures, and we know that. So yes, and again, we are -- we are stressing the system and testing the system in different stressful ways. But yes, there are many systems out there that we know don't deploy them today, and this system has proven it would be effective against that.
 
            Q     General, I realize you're -- the threat missile used was 40 years old, but was this test designed in any way to mimic the threat from any specific country out there? And in what way is this system similar to the one that's been approved for deployment in Poland?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: To answer the second -- or to answer the second part first, is, the fire control, the -- in fact, the fire control, the sensors, all of that is very similar to the one that we would deploy in Poland -- same frequency, same combination of sensors that we used today would, in fact, be used in Europe or at any of our other deployment sites.
 
            The one difference is, is in Europe we would use the same interceptor and the same kill vehicle, but we'd have the third stage removed and it would be a two-stage version of what was flown today. The kill vehicle, which is the concentration and the most difficult engineering, is in fact identical to the one that was used today.
 
            Q     (Off mike) Polish television.
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Yes.
 
            Q     Does this test influence in any way your plans in Poland? Does it have any meaning for the plans in Poland?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: There were no contingencies on our plans in Poland on today's success. The testing program is always planned to occur and continue to test as we explore plans of deploying the system in Europe, and our ballistic missile defense agreements were not contingent on any particular types of testing. But this is part of our development program, and we will continue to test.
 
            Q     Sir, and to the specific threats from other nations, I'd just --
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Oh, yes. We are very careful not to build a system to shoot down a particular type of threat. What we've found from an engineering point of view, it's best to characterize a whole class of threats, for two reasons. One is we don't want to have what would be called a fragile system, where we know it could work very well against one threat, but if a different threat emerged that we didn't expect, our intelligence didn't inform us of, we wouldn't want to have a system that we had uncertainty.
 
            So what we do is we look at the physics and the general characteristics of a threat and we select different points in its performance, and we test against all of those.
 
            The other issue is, is as we've seen from our intelligence and our experience, the missiles don't always fly exactly as they were intended. And this system is insensitive to how well the missile actually flew. What it worries about is a defended area mapped out on the ground, or in today's test we mapped out an area on the ocean. And the system automatically will conduct all the functions it has to in order to defend that piece of territory.
 
            And so we don't focus on a particular threat, but the threat today is well within the family of threats that we see out there.
 
            Q     One of the big criticisms, obviously, is the sporadic scheduling of these tests. The last one was 15 months ago, the one after that was like in October of '06. Going forward, what are your plans to make these occurrences a little bit more regular so that the public can have some confidence?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: We agree that testing is extremely important to prove out the system. And so, in that regard is -- we have scheduled now -- instead of preparing one missile for each test, we're actually preparing two missiles for each test. Instead of having one silo at Fort -- or at Vandenberg, we now have a second test silo coming online. Instead of having one target, we'll have two targets.
 
            So those are our principal limiting factors which have been stretching out our testing, so that we can test on a more frequent and regular basis.
 
            Q     What's the next potential scheduled --
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: This summer would be another test. And it will be again out of -- it'll be a first time out of Kwajalein Atoll.
 
            Q     And one follow-up. (Off mike) – This thing was fouled up back in February because of a faulty telemetry card --
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Yes.
 
            Q     -- produced by L3 Communications, as I recall, (off mike). Did you fine or penalized Boeing and L3 because they caused major delay in the system, in the test?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Boeing had an award fee program that was set up on having a successful test during last year. They did not accomplish all of those; therefore they did not receive their full award fee, for that exact reason.
 
            Q     For the February exercise that had to be delayed, is that -- that's the one?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Yeah. And this is the one we flew today.
 
            Q     Right. (Off mike.) And the telemetry card? And this is somewhat in the weeds, but did L3 make this one or did you go to another vendor for --
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: No, we -- it is a still a product of L3, but Boeing went in there and reassessed and changed their testing processes on that card and the manufacturing processes, with government oversight.
 
            Q     Sir, can you say how much this test cost, especially compared to previous tests?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Compared to previous tests, this test is in the ballpark between 120 (million dollars) and 150 million (dollars). And that is associated with the interceptors, approximately 40 million (dollars); and the target is approximately 20 million (dollars) and -- or 26 million (dollars). The difficulty in the accounting is associated with all of the other operations that go on, the aircraft in and such, but it's in the range between 120 to 150 million (dollars).
 
            Q     You said that it was -- the threat was, you know, well within the family of threats; from, like, which kinds of countries? Or could you name a few countries that would pose, you know, the kind of threat that today's test was aimed at countering?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Well, we have -- the way look at it is not by country; again, because the system is insensitive to what country or where it comes from, and our engineering is insensitive to that. What we look at is classes of threats. And we have short-range threats, under a thousand kilometers, threats between -- medium range between a thousand and 3,000, or -- yes, and intermediate range, 3,000 to 5,000, and then intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are above 5,000. Today's was a little bit into the intermediate range. It's a little bit beyond 3,000 kilometers.
 
            Q     Let me try that again. Is this test meant to simulate a missile launched from North Korea? Is it similar to a missile launched from North Korea that -- vaguely so? In the past, people have said that these tests are, you know, like something North Korea might have had. Is that kind of right?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: We do look at the operational realism of the test itself. And the geometries from a launch from North Korea to the United States is very similar to the geometries from Kodiak, Alaska to off the coast of California. So we -- it is very similar.
 
            Go ahead, Brian.
 
            MR. GREEN: I'd just say that, you know, we've seen various threats evolving over time. We have seen nothing in the recent past to suggest that those threats are diminishing. This test obviously is relevant to those evolving threats, and we are convinced in our own minds that, you know, various states do continue to develop -- have very active missile programs that will continue to develop over time.
 
            Q     Brian?
 
            MR. GREEN: The states that have been mentioned most often, as you note, are North Korea and we've also talked about threats emerging from the Middle East, so nothing new there.
 
            Q     Any from Iran?
 
            MR. GREEN: Well, Iran has a very active missile program. And again, there's nothing -- nothing new in that. We understand that they have a missile program that continues, and we expect it will continue.
 
            Q     Bearing in mind the geographic location of this one, over the Pacific, is it fair to say that this -- of the various scenarios, this one is closer to a North Korea scenario?
 
            MR. GREEN: Well, not -- not --
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Well, again, it's a geometry. If you look and compare the geometries, you can see different threats around the world; that it does match one like that, or it could match from the Middle East coming -- if you flip a scenario, which is where you just -- you take the mirror image of it, from that position you can see a whole other set of different threats that could be countered by U.S. assets around the world.
 
            So this is -- this is not geometry-dependent in that regard, today's test.
 
            It will apply because most of it's done exo-atmospheric; it would apply anywhere in the globe where you put these type of threats and these type of assembly of assets together.
 
            Q    Mr. Green, do you think that this test -- a successful intercept should quiet critics who are -- remain skeptical of the Missile Defense System? 
 
            MR. GREEN: Well, I would -- I would say that the critics will have to speak for themselves, obviously. But there have been many who've noted the need for operationally realistic testing, and I would just note that we have just had a good description of an operationally realistic test. And, again, the critics will decide for themselves how close this test comes to satisfying their own -- their own ideas. But successful tests, I think, always help to reinforce confidence in the system and should be useful in that regard.
 
            Q     Mr. Green, and General, is the system up and running now? This was a couple of years ago, there was this debate whether it was running or whether it was not. Is the system operational as we speak -- the ground-based intercept system that tested today? If we were attacked tomorrow, is this thing up and running? 
 
            MR. GREEN: Well --
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Do you want me to answer that? 
 
            MR. GREEN: Sure.
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: The system is -- is manned 24/7. It has recall times, and that means, you know, within so many hours can we up and fully operational. And all of those are determined by the military chain of command. So, yes, they have control over the system, and we coordinate our research and development and test activities as we upgrade the system and do other work with their activities. 
 
            But the -- the system itself is one where the command net is fully exercised in a test like this. And COCOM commanders, depending on which scenario, train with this system and such. So it could be used and it could be made to put into an operational mode. I can't tell you the status of it at any point in time, but it does have that ability. But it's a -- it's a command decision and an operational decision.
 
            Q     The only reason I ask is, if this thing is dormant, and went up for the last week to get prepared for this test. This thing is up and running as we speak to protect the United States?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Yes. Yeah.
 
            Q     It is?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: It is fully manned and it is always active. It's just at what state. As -- as you're familiar with our RED CONS for all of our other deployed forces, Missile Defense System follows the same rules.
 
            Q     You're not going to be tracking Santa Claus when he comes from the North Pole at Christmas? (Laughter.)
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: (Laughs.) We could. (Laughs.) We could. With five different sensors, -- (laughs) -- and show one Santa Claus. (Laughter.)
 
            (Cross talk.)
 
            MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike) -- maybe we could take one more question in the back. And let's see, we have one more --
 
            Q     (Inaudible) -- we had problems with our equipment, sorry. Just one question, okay?
 
            MR. WHITMAN: Yes, ma'am.
 
            Q     (Chuckles.) Did you get any new clues, new ideas, new information you can use building interceptors in Poland after this test?
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: The interceptors are really insensitive. In other words, it doesn't matter where they're located. The type of functionality we tested today proved that it -- what we demonstrated today would work no matter where it was located. The silos are -- the temperatures are all carefully controlled, and the environment that the missile would see is the same in Poland as it would be in California, as it is in Alaska. So to the missile itself, it doesn't have anything peculiar that's done to the missile given a different location or site.
 
            MR. WHITMAN: All right. Well, thank you. And if you check with the press office, we'll give you the details on how we're going to feed you the video this evening for the broadcast media. Okay?
 
            Thank you.
 
            GEN. O'REILLY: Thank you.
 
 
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