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News Release


Release No: 350-00
June 20, 2000


The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's (BMDO) National Missile Defense (NMD) Joint Program Office announced today it has scheduled the third NMD intercept flight test for July 7, 2000 (July 8 on the Kwajalein Missile Range in the Pacific Ocean). The NMD system now in development is being designed to protect all 50 states from a limited, long-range ballistic missile attack by a rogue state.

This will be the first full system test of the prototype NMD system, using current versions of all the elements representing each part of a future operational system: space-based early warning sensor; ground-based early warning, tracking and discrimination radars; battle management, command, control and communication; in-flight communication system and the interceptor missile and kill vehicle.

"The July test will be our most demanding trial to date," Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said. "It is an important part of our effort to be in a position to deploy a national missile defense system by 2005. The schedule is demanding, and the technical challenges are daunting, but so far we are on track to meet the deployment target."

Program officials stated that the July 7 flight test date depends on the readiness of all test elements to meet specific requirements for performance, safety and system integration.

A target missile, a modified Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile carrying a single warhead target and a single decoy, will be launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. About 20 minutes after the target missile lifts off, an interceptor missile carrying a prototype "kill vehicle" will launch from Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean and be directed toward the target by data from the system's radars. Approximately 10 minutes after launch, the interceptor is scheduled to demonstrate "hit to kill" technology, with the kill vehicle discriminating between the target and a decoy, homing in on the target warhead and colliding directly with the warhead to destroy it. The closing speed of the kill vehicle and the target warhead will be more than 12,000 miles per hour.

This will be the third in a series of increasingly challenging and realistic tests of NMD hit-to-kill technology. The first intercept flight occurred in October 1999 and tested the ability of an interceptor to discriminate between a target and a decoy and then destroy the target; the test was a success. The second intercept test, which took place in January 2000, was more ambitious; it tested all of the elements of the system except the in-flight communications link to the interceptor. All elements worked successfully together in this first attempt to demonstrate the capability of an integrated system. However, the cooling system for the infrared sensor in the kill vehicle failed, resulting in a miss in the last five seconds. The problem with the cooling system, which had worked in the previous test, has been identified and corrected.

The third intercept flight test will be progressively more complex than the previous two. For the first time, the test will integrate the in-flight communications system between the ground and the kill vehicle.

The primary purpose of the test is to help NMD program officials assess the state of development of the proposed NMD system in order to provide decision-makers with an analysis of program progress toward demonstrating the overall technical feasibility of the system and of the current schedule. A Department of Defense assessment of technical feasibility to meet a threat-driven 2005 initial capability is due to be made later this year.

In order to deploy a national missile defense system by 2005, the United States would have to build a new radar in Shemya, Alaska. In order to complete the facility in time, a decision to start preparation of a site for that radar would have to be made this year. The Department soon will issue a request for proposals for work at Shemya, subject to a presidential decision to award contracts and begin work. This fall, President Clinton will review the missile threat the nation faces and analyze the technology, cost and international security, including arms control, factors relevant to his decisions concerning a national missile defense system.

Other important pre-deployment decisions must be made as progress is reviewed in later years. At least 16 more intercept tests are planned by 2005, with eight intercept tests scheduled to take place prior to 2003, when a decision is scheduled on whether to produce interceptors for operational use.

Under the current schedule, the system would achieve initial operational capability in 2005, with the deployment of 20 interceptors. An additional 80 interceptors would be in operation by 2007.

For more information contact Lt. Col. Rick Lehner at (703) 604-3186.

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