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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 22, January 1998

News review

Ballistic Missile Defence Developments

There was encouraging and discouraging news in January for supporters of the US's ongoing development of ballistic missile defence (BMD) systems for possible deployment in a national missile defence (NMD) system.

On 15 January, the Department of Defense's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) carried out a second successful test flight of an Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) infrared sensor designed to recognise and track possible targets in space. The sensor was designed by Raytheon. In June 1997, the BMDO successfully tested an EKV sensor designed by Boeing. According to a Department of Defense statement, released on 16 January: "No intercept took place during this mission. ... Data gathered during the mission will be analyzed to determine how the EKV sensor performed and the results will be released in the next few weeks. ...

A Lockheed Martin Payload Launch Vehicle (PLV) topped with the EKV sensor was launched...from the Army's Kwajalein Missile Range in the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the central Pacific Ocean. ... The seeker and data processing system of the sensor are the eyes and brain of the EKV, enabling it to intercept an attacking intercontinental ballistic missile.

Approximately 20 minutes before the PLV was launched, a Multi-Service Launch System, a specifically configured Minuteman II missile, was launched from Vandenberg AFB, California, carrying a simulated warhead and decoys. ...

The NMD program is a vital part of the Defense Department's plan to design a system against long-range ballistic missiles... The first opportunity to decide to deploy the NMD system will be in 2000, based upon intelligence estimates of the potential threat to the United States."

On 22 January, the BMDO announced the postponement of a test flight of the Lockheed Martin interceptor-missile for the Army's Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system. The test was due to have taken place in late March. The problem, according to the BMDO, lay with the "thrust vector control firmware". A decision of rescheduling the test would be taken within 30 days. According to an unnamed official: "Early indications suggest that the test may occur at the end of March or early April."

The same day, the BMDO also announced the postponement of a third test flight of the Lockheed Martin PAC (Patriot Advanced Capability) 3 missile. According to an Army spokeswoman, it was now hoped to begin a series of 16 test flights against a range of targets "sometime in the third quarter of FY [Fiscal Year] 98."

Reports: Text - second US ballistic missile flight test is successful, United States Information Service, 16 January National missile defense test a success, Business Wire, 16 January Technical problems delay next THAAD, PAC-3 flights, Defense Daily, 23 January.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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