At long last, there's some good news for the most troubled part of the ballistic missile defense system. In testing this afternoon, an interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California caught up to a target warhead, and destroyed it."This was the first intercept of [an] operationally-configured warhead and booster, and the first intercept overall in nearly four years," Victoria Samson, the ordinarily uber-skeptical missile defense analyst, told Defense Tech. She called the test "progress" after repeated failures in previous tests of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system to get an interceptor off of the launch pad. (Other anti-missile systems, including the shorter-range Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense and the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, have been performing much better.)Interestingly, an intercept wasn't even the main goal in this trial. Instead, it was designed to gauge the system's "ability to successfully detect, track, [and] discriminate... a target in space," a Raytheon statement observed.The system appeared to do just that. "A key radar collected target information and shared it with an operationally configured interceptor, the interceptor used that data to zero in on a target in space, and battle managers oversaw this activity in real time from thousands of miles away," added a Boeing statement. "The team is energized."The successful test was, not, however, the "full end-to-end" demonstration that Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld said he wanted to see of the system."It's missing key components - the sea-based X-band radar (which was used in the test, but only for the radar's calibrations), the satellite network system needed to track the missiles (STSS), [and] threat-representative countermeasures for the target missile." Samson noted.Most importantly, the missile defenders knew where their target was going to fly before they shot off their interceptor. The real test will come when they don't get that info beforehand.
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