Details of US Ballistic Missile Intercept of May 30 Revealed

By | Jun 04, 2017 09:10 AM EDT
Kill Vehicle

CE-II EKV. (Photo : Raytheon)

It turns out the first successful intercept test of the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) national missile defense system against an ICBM-range target last May 30 was a long-delayed test that was supposed to have taken place in the last quarter of 2016.

The popular public perception was this test -- designated FTG-15 by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) -- was a quick reaction response to a dire situation caused by North Korea's stubborn development of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It wasn't anything of the kind.

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FTG-15 was in the works following the last successful ICBM intercept, FTG-06b, on June 22, 2014.

FTG-15 is notable because it was the first test of the new "CE-II Block-I" version of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), which collided with the ICBM target over the Pacific Ocean on May 30.

CE-II Block I EKV is a relatively modest upgrade eliminating some of the known problems with the CE-II EKV and intended to provide improved reliability.  MDA plans to build 11 CE-II Block I interceptors -- one for FTG-15 and the other 10 for deployment. 

The success of FTG-15 raised to 10 out of 18 (55%) the success rate for the EKVs. No flight intercept tests from 2010 to 2013 were successful.

A few months before the May 30 intercept, MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring said that because of FTG-15, "... we're getting now out to the long-range and closing velocities that certainly would be applicable from a North Korean or Iran type of scenario."

A fixed date for launching FTG-15 was a relief for the MDA following delays in late 2016 and in January.

The May 30 intercept means it's been three years after the last successful intercept test, FTG-06b.  It was also six months before the end of 2017 deadline for deploying a total of 44 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) set by the Department of Defense in March 2013.  

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