WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is recycling demilitarized rocket motors and repurposing the materials to make test missiles and it’s saving the service money, according to Thomas Webber, director of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command Technical Center.
These test missiles are called “zombies” and save the Army from having to destroy old boosters, giving them a new life, Webber said during the Defense News Space and Missile Defense Symposium Debrief event Aug. 5.
The effort started several years ago when the Army’s Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space and the Patriot air and missile defense lower-tier product office began running out of targets for tests and spending “a lot” of money to buy more targets, Webber said.
The tech center proposed a “significantly cheaper” solution of using recycled motors reaching the end of operational life that would be appropriate for both developmental and operational missile tests, which are accurately representative of ballistic missile threats, he said.
Following a demonstration at the end of 2016, the zombies have taken off.
“We’ve been very successful,” Webber said. Since then, the program has expanded, providing targets not only for Patriot testing, but also the Missile Defense Agency and foreign military sales test events.
The Army has built seven targets to date. There are three variants: Pathfinder Zombie; the Black Dagger Zombie that adds an additional booster — the Terrier MK70 — for longer ranges; and Sabre, a shorter-range version.
A zombie was the target used in a recent critical test showing the Patriot system could be interoperable with the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, Webber said.
Another target was successfully deployed in a June 25 test at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, for a foreign military sales customer.
The targets will be used in some of the upcoming tests that will help officials make decisions on the Lower-Tier Air-Defense Sensor, the future radar for the Army’s Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense System to replace Patriot, Webber noted.
Specifically, a Black Dagger will be used during the IAMD Battle Command System limited-user test coming up next month.
“It has been a tremendous boon for us to be able to provide a more affordable, effective target,” Webber said.
He added that the Army is saving roughly 50 percent of what it would cost to replace targets simply by buying more. “We can turn these around pretty quickly and support those operational test events,” he said.
And it has provided “the capability needed to be able to make sure that we’re validating and testing those operational weapon systems with regular and recurring test events,” Webber said.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.