WASHINGTON — The latest version of the Missile Defense Agency’s Ground-Based Interceptor for homeland missile defense intercepted an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile in test Monday.

The GBI, which is part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system designed to defeat possible intercontinental ballistic missile attacks from North Korea and Iran, was launched at Vandenberg Space Force, California. The GMD system is made up of GBIs, the majority of which are positioned in underground silos at Fort Greely, Alaska.

“The test demonstrated the ability of the [GMD] capability to engage threats faster,” the agency said in a statement.

The test used an upgraded GBI with the Raytheon-designed Capability Enhanced-II Block 1 Exo-Atmospheric Kill Vehicle and marked the first time the MDA has tested a three-stage GBI operating in two-stage mode, “which means the third stage was commanded not to ignite and allowed earlier release of the kill vehicle, providing closer range engagements,” the agency explained.

The EKV is the section of the GBI designed to destroy targets in high-speed collisions after separating from the booster rocket.

MDA said it was primarily testing the upgraded GBI’s ability to intercept a target in an expanded space made possible by the two-stage mode, but the agency also, for the first time, integrated sensor data from the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance Model-2 Forward Based Mode and an upgraded Sea-Based X-Band radar, which are both also developed by Raytheon.

“This successful intercept utilizing the 2-/3-Stage selectable Ground Based Interceptor capability in 2-stage mode provides the Warfighter with increased battlespace that supports additional shot opportunities to negate an incoming threat missile,” newly confirmed MDA Director Lt. Gen. Heath Collins, said in the statement. “This test demonstrates that we continue to provide enhanced capabilities for our existing Ground Based Interceptor fleet while we rapidly design and deliver the leap-ahead technology of the Next Generation Interceptor.”

Other companies involved in the test included Boeing as the lead integrator of the GMD system and Northrop Grumman, which integrates and manages weapon systems within the GMD system as of mid-2022.

The upgraded GBI will be deployed in the next GMD capability delivery, the agency said.

MDA first launched a mock-up EKV with the three-stage booster operating in two-stage mode in September 2021.

System modernization

The first ballistic missile defense system was deployed some 20 years ago, and so modernization for the system to defend the homeland was the top priority of the previous MDA director, Vice Adm. Jon Hill, who retired this year.

MDA is working with two teams in a competition to develop the Next-Generation Interceptor to replace the current GBIs. Northrop Grumman and Raytheon are competing against Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne to build the new interceptors. The plan is to carry both teams all the way through critical design review.

Lockheed completed its digital PDR in October and the Northrop and Raytheon team is expected to complete its design review early in 2024. Roughly a year following, the teams are expected to reach the CDR stage.

The aim is to field the NGI by 2028, Hill has said.

“It’s great to see GMD testing hot again, after a bit of a break,” Tom Karako, missile defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Defense News. “While the [NGI] capability is needed for more advanced threats, the kill vehicles deployed today remain an important deterrence and defense capability.”

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.

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