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Booster-'Bullet' Error Foils Fifth NMD Test Flight

By Steve Hara
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 10, 2000 – The fifth test flight of the prototype National Missile Defense system ended in failure early July 8 when the "bullet" and booster rocket stages didn't separate.

A modified Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile with a target warhead was launched at 12:19 a.m. Eastern Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The prototype interceptor was launched about 20 minutes later from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, explained immediately following the test that the exoatmospheric kill vehicle, the "bullet" of the NMD architecture, apparently waited for a signal from the booster rocket that never came.

Lacking the signal, he said, the kill vehicle shut down its timeline and never attempted to intercept the Vandenberg target. The kill vehicle relies on hitting a target to destroy it.

Defense officials reported later July 8 that everything else from kill vehicle sensors to ground control systems performed as expected up to moment separation should have occurred. They also said preliminary indications are the prototype tracking radar at Kwajalein performed well and discriminated the mock warhead from all other objects, including debris from an improperly inflated decoy balloon.

Government and industry officials will review test data to trace the failure and determine test objectives that were or were not met. They would not estimate when the review would be complete.

The National Missile Defense system is being designed to protect the United States from a limited ICBM attack. The United States has made no decision yet to deploy an NMD system.

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Related Sites:
AFPS News Article: Fifth NMD Test Flight Slated
Ballistic Missile Defense Organization Web site
DoD News Briefing: Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish on Latest NMD Test, July 8, 2000
DoD News Release: Update on National Missile Defense Intercept Test

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