The US Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) recent flight testing of the ground-based midcourse defence (GMD) element of its ballistic missile defence system (BMDS) ended in a failure after the interceptor missed an incoming target.
Carried out in collaboration with the US Air Force's 30th Space Wing, Joint Functional Component Command, Integrated Missile Defense (JFCC IMD) and Northern Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the test was the third consecutive failure involving the interceptor system since December 2008.
The interceptor was supposed to destroy a long-range ballistic missile target launched from the US Army's Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands, with a direct collision over the Pacific Ocean following liftoff from Vandenberg AFB.
According to a statement released by the US Department of Defense, programme officials will now be conducting an extensive review to determine the cause of any anomalies that may have lead to the interception failure.
Flight test featured the first-generation capability enhancement I (CE-I) exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKVs), which are currently deployed in Alaska and California.
The MDA has achieved success in eight of the 16 GMD systems tests since 1999.
GMD uses radars and sensors, command-and-control facilities, communications terminals and a 2,000-mile fibre-optic communications network to safeguard the US from long-range ballistic projectile threats, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Boeing serves as GMD prime contractor and leads an industry team comprising Northrop Grumman, Orbital Sciences and Raytheon.
The DoD currently has 32 GMD interceptors, including 26 at Fort Greely in Alaska, and four at Vandenberg AFB. It has plans to add an additional 14 new interceptors at a cost of $1bn to help enhance defence against nuclear threats posed by Iran and North Korea.
Image: The ground-based interceptor lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base during its non-intercept flight testing in January 2013. Photo: courtesy of MDA.