Global Insights: Failed Launch Signals Need for New Course in U.S. Missile Defense

Global Insights: Failed Launch Signals Need for New Course in U.S. Missile Defense

The U.S. missile defense program suffered perhaps its most serious test failure in recent history last week. The July 5 setback should serve as a warning to the Pentagon for the need to hedge against further deficiencies in the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, a core element of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS).

On Friday afternoon, the Defense Department launched a missile from the Army’s Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands. Several minutes later, the Pentagon launched an unarmed Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) aboard a rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and used data from a U.S. Navy ship and a large floating radar to plot an intercept solution for the EKV. The kill vehicle was then supposed to collide with the incoming missile and destroy it through the kinetic energy released by this “hit to kill” operation.

But, as the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) noted in a terse announcement describing the integrated BMDS test, “Although a primary objective was the intercept of a long-range ballistic missile target . . . an intercept was not achieved.” The MDA added that, “Program officials will conduct an extensive review to determine the cause or causes of any anomalies which may have prevented a successful intercept.”

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