After Tuesday’s successful test of America’s GMD Missile Defense System, Navy Vice Adm. James D. Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told the press that the United States is ready to defend itself against ballistic missile threats levied by countries like North Korea or Iran.

The test saw an ICBM equipped with a mock-nuclear warhead launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.  Once the ICBM was in the air, target acquisition and tracking data was routed through various systems and used to launch counter-missile projectiles via the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system.  Per the release provided by the MDA, the GMD projectile’s exo-atmospheric kill vehicle intercepted the ICBM somewhere over the Pacific Ocean and destroyed it.

I was confident before the test that we had the capability to defeat any threat that [North Korea or Iran] would throw at us,” Syring told reporters, “and I’m even more confident today, after seeing the intercept test yesterday, that we continue to be on that course.”

The GMD system is designed to be able to target an incoming ballistic missile at three possible points in its trajectory.  These include the “the boost phase, from launch through ascent, 1-5 minutes; the midcourse phase, when the missile booster burns out and the missile coasts in space toward its target, up to 20 minutes; and the terminal phase, a brief period when the missile reenters the atmosphere,” according to the MDA website.

Tuesday’s test involved intercepting the missile at the “midcourse phase” of its trajectory.

Although this was a developmental test, this is exactly the scenario we would expect to occur during an actual operational engagement.” Syring told the press.  “Based on all the data we’ve received to date and all indications are that all our systems performed exactly as designed and this test represents a critical — critical milestone in the life of the program.”

According to the Admiral, a concerted effort was made to ensure the test would closely resemble how such an event would occur in real life, though admittedly, some allowances had to be made to ensure the safety of military personnel and civilians operating in the Pacific.

Now, we did know the test was going to be yesterday. We did know the timeframe that it was going to be. But that is due in almost 100 percent fact of the safety constraints that we’re up against in the Pacific Ocean. We’re launching an interceptor 100 miles north of the LAX, we’re launching an interceptor that’s flying thousands of miles past Hawaii; and that requires us to shut down large parts of the ocean in terms of mariners, ship traffic and air traffic and its infeasible to do it any other way.”

A number of concerns have been levied about previous failures in testing of the GMD system brought about by an issue with internal debris interacting with circuit boards while the interceptor projectile is in flight.  Syring confirmed that the test utilized the newer version of the GMD’s missiles, rather than the error ridden ones that are still currently deployed.  Per the Admiral, however, the old model interceptors will be replaced with newer models like the one used in the test by the end of this year.

The faulty model interceptors prompted the MDA to affect a policy of using multiple interceptors on any one incoming missile, but Syring shrugged off assertions that using multiple missiles to defend against one inbound target was a result of the GMD’s poor performance.

We shoot more than one in an operational, real-world scenario — like every system does. The Aegis system does, the THAAD system does. We want to exercise the GMD system with more than one interceptor to gather data for what a first interceptor would do in terms of kill and what the second interceptor would see.”

GMD interceptor being launched on Tuesday

According to Admiral Syring, the GMD system is ready to protect the mainland from any potential missile attack through the anticipated technical capabilities of our opponents all the way through 2020, and at that point, a new model interceptor will already be close to deployment.

The interceptor that we flew yesterday certainly keeps pace with — I would actually say helps us outpace the threat — through 2020. And the new development that we have going with the redesigned kill vehicle which is ongoing, which will flight test by the end of calendar year ’19 will be the next step to not only improving reliability, but improving performance against the evolving threat.”


Images courtesy of the DoD