WASHINGTON — The most advanced variant of the Patriot missile misfired during a major test of the U.S. Army’s air and missile defense battle command system, which involved tactical ballistic missile and a cruise missile targets, an Army official confirmed.
Inside Defense, on Aug. 24, first reported the failure that occurred at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, on Aug. 20.
A Patriot Advanced Capability-2 Guided Enhanced Missile was used against the cruise missile target, but the Patriot Missile Segment Enhancement missile that was intended to intercept the tactical ballistic missile target misfired, Col. Phil Rottenborn, the Integrated Battle Command System project manager within the Army’s Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, confirmed for Defense News in an Aug. 26 statement.
Lockheed Martin is the manufacturer of all Patriot missile variants.
The test set up two interceptors to go up against the tactical ballistic missile, which was a Black Dagger Zombie target missile, and “the [IBCS] system did what it was designed to do” by deploying a PAC-3 Cost Reduction Initiative, or CRI, missile when the Patriot Missile Segment Enhancement missile misfired, which continued the engagement and took out the tactical ballistic missile, Rottenborn said.
An additional CRI was available but was not launched due to the system’s confirmation that an interceptor had destroyed the target, he added.
“Root cause analysis on the MSE misfire is ongoing, but preliminary indications are that all IBCS commands to the launcher were executed successfully,” Rottenborn said, “and that the error may lie within the missile, but further analysis is required to determine that with certainty.”
Rottenborn noted the MSE weapon is “a proven and capable missile with a great track record, and I’m confident the team will sort this out quickly.”
The Army’s IBCS system is undergoing a major limited-user test through mid-September ahead of a production decision expected by the end of the year. The system has had a plagued past; it failed its first limited-user test in 2016 after a few days of trying to get it up and running.
Army officials including Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin and Army Under Secretary James McPherson told reporters on a call last week shortly after the live-fire test that it was a success and the two incoming targets were destroyed nearly simultaneously. There was no mention of the MSE misfire during the call.
The cruise missile and advanced tactical ballistic missile targets were launched from different places toward Army air and missile defenders, while multiple, disparate radars sent data to IBCS as they tracked the incoming targets. IBCS pieced the data together into a uniform track of each target missile. The system then informed the defenders which interceptors would be best to engage the threats.
Officials reported that soldiers launched a Patriot Advanced Capability-2 missile and destroyed the cruise missile target, while a PAC-3 was launched and destroyed the ballistic missile.
The live-fire test falls on the heels of another major test executed a week ago at White Sands, where IBCS successfully coordinated the defeat of two incoming cruise missile threats amid debris while a portion of the system was brought down by jamming.
In that test, IBCS made it possible to engage a single interceptor per target, Col. Tony Behrens, the Army capability manager and director of Army Air and Missile Defense Command, said at the time of the event. Typically, two interceptors, one following the other, are deployed against a single missile target in case the first misses.
With IBCS, the Army will be able to use fewer interceptors in engagements, Behrens said.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.