A California-based ballistic missile interceptor with a spotty record of success was launched in the direction of Hawaii Thursday to test redesigned components.
The Raytheon Co. said the mission proved the effectiveness of a recent redesign of exoatmospheric “kill vehicle” thrusters, although an impact with a target missile was not part of the flight plan.
The target representing an intermediate-range ballistic missile was air-launched from a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft over the ocean area west of Hawaii. That target was purposely not intercepted to demonstrate maximum kill vehicle maneuvering and allow the greatest data collection, Raytheon said.
The long-range ground-based interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., “successfully evaluating performance of alternate divert thrusters for the system’s exoatmospheric kill vehicle,” the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said.
Ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska provide the main line of defense for Hawaii and the mainland from ballistic missile threats from countries such as North Korea and Iran. Some thought is being given to enabling an “Aegis Ashore” facility on Kauai used for ballistic missile defense testing to become operational for round-the-clock threat protection for Hawaii.
Aegis sea-based missile defense utilizes Aegis cruisers and destroyers armed with interceptor missiles that are designed to defeat short- to medium-range ballistic missiles. The ground-based system in Alaska and California defends against intermediate and long-range missiles.
During Thursday’s test, a transportable radar at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai detected the target launched from the C-17. The Sea-Based X-band radar, which is based in Hawaii, was positioned in the ocean area northeast of Hawaii. It, too, acquired and tracked the target, the Missile Defense Agency said.
The test also included a demonstration of technology to discriminate countermeasures carried by the target missile, the agency said. Program officials will evaluate the system’s performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test.
Defense News said the ground-based system had two interceptor test failures in 2010 and another in 2013. In June of 2014, an intermediate-range ballistic missile target launched from Kwajalein Atoll was struck down by an interceptor fired from California. Defense News said the Missile Defense Agency at that point had been successful with the ground-based system in four of seven tries.