WASHINGTON — On the heels of a successful intercept test of its homeland missile defense system against an intercontinental ballistic missile target, Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring detailed plans to continue to challenge the system to ensure it is ready to go up against threats from North Korea and Iran, not just now, but against what is anticipated in the future.
Tuesday's intercept test for the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense System — designed to defend against intercontinental ballistic missile threats from North Korea and Iran — was a success that Syring characterized on a phone call to reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday as "a complete obliteration" of the target designed to represent an ICBM threat from Iran or North Korea.
The test marks the first time the GMD system has gone up against an ICBM class target, although some previous tests have featured intermediate-range ballistic missile targets that have approached ICBM speeds.
Syring said intelligence forecasts and projections on where Iran and North Korea's technology might be in terms of reentry vehicles, countermeasures and rocket motors down the road helped the agency design a test target that would replicate a threat in the 2020 time frame in Tuesday’s test.
North Korea’s prolific missile testing is showing that its capabilities continue to grow and successful tests of the GMD system specifically designed to go up against those possible missile threats are imperative, defense officials have said.
The agency is already looking ahead to a more challenging test of the GMD system in 2018, roughly estimated to take place in August or September, according to Syring.
The target will represent the same range and velocity as the ICBM target used in Tuesday’s test, but in 2018, the MDA will use two GMD ground-based interceptors to go up against that target, he said.
Syring said using two interceptors in the test replicates real-world operations where two interceptors are generally used to take out a target, one serving as a backup if the first fails. "We want to exercise the GMD system with more than one interceptor to gather data for what a first interceptor would do, what the second interceptor would see — the next step in ever-increasing operational realism," he said.
The director added that while Tuesday’s test demonstrated the GMD system "certainly keeps pace with and helps us outpace the threat through 2020," new development by the MDA is conducted to redesign the kill vehicle on the interceptor to improve the reliability and performance against an evolving threat.
The redesigned kill vehicle will be tested by the end of calendar year 2019, he said.
The MDA is also funding a newer kill vehicle — the Multi-Object Kill Vehicle, or MOKV — in fiscal year 2018. Development will begin in 2018, and "we are targeting the 2025 time frame for that," Syring said.
There are three companies designing a kill vehicle that can take out multiple warheads with a single interceptor. Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing were awarded $9.7 million contracts in August 2015 by the MDA to work on designs.
Syring said the MDA is also planning to test the GMD system against a salvo of threat-representative targets in the 2023 timeframe.
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 in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.