U.S. Missile Defense System on Target, Generals Say
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2007 The U.S. missile defense system intercepted a warhead during a test over the Pacific Ocean last week, boosting military officials’ confidence in the program’s ability to neutralize threats from missile-wielding nations like North Korea and Iran.
During a news conference at the Pentagon today, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. “Trey” Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, and U.S. Northern Command Commander Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. discussed the successful Sept. 28 interception exercise. In a test designed to replicate a missile attack from North Korea, operators launched a warhead from Kodiak, Alaska. Land- and sea-based radars tracked the missile for 24 minutes before a 60-foot interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., flew for seven minutes and blasted the missile to bits.
“We think that this builds more and more confidence with respect to (the question), ‘Does the system work?’” Obering said. “The answer is yes.”
During the exercise, the target’s trajectory was monitored by radar onboard an Aegis-class ship floating southwest of the missile launch site using SPY-1 radar, and a separate ship located farther south and equipped with fledgling X-band radar technology. The Upgraded Early Warning Radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., also tracked the target as it flew south from Alaska.
Obering showed reporters video footage of what he called a “textbook success.” The montage displayed missile silos blooming open as the Orbital Boost Vehicle inceptor blasted off to meet the target. Infrared cameras captured the interceptor’s high-speed technicolor collision with the missile.
Renuart noted that the exercise also demonstrated successful coordination at U.S. Northern Command, where authority to engage the defense system resides. Officials there received ample time and adequate information from radars tracking the target, he said.
“It … allowed us to validate that the procedures we built up over time are, in fact, appropriate for the kinds of threats that this system is designed to defeat,” he said. “So from the operational perspective, the soldiers in the field, the system, the command-and-control capability, the integration of those information systems, it was also a very positive event for us, as well.”
Overall, the $100 billion program, which began in 1983 and has been tailored to offset North Korean and Iranian threats, has hit 30 of 39 missiles launched. The Sept. 28 exercise marks the system’s sixth successful interception in the nine tests conducted since 2001.
Obering said he thinks this most recent success will help counter arguments made by NATO partners that the system is unproven.
“I think it helps us in a very real way because, as I have conversations with our European partners and allies and NATO partners in the past, one of the questions I do get asked is, ‘Well, this system is not proven, (and) it doesn’t work, right?’” he said. “And I think this goes a long (way) to answering that question.”
Countering European criticism is strategically important as U.S. officials attempt to export the missile defense program to Poland and Czech Republic. Placing silos in these countries would help establish sound missile defense geometry against an Iranian threat, Obering said.
“It allows us to establish a track on those missiles, … generate a fire control solution of what we call a weapons task plan, launch the interceptor, and then engage that missile with lethal velocity,” he said. “You can’t just go up there and kiss these things; you have to hit them hard enough to destroy them.”