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Missile-Defense System Contractor Boeing Hails Successful Test of New ‘Kill Vehicle’

Brian Webb/KCLU

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency successfully tested an anti-missile warhead over the weekend. 

The test, conducted with a missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., marked the first time that missiles like those based at Fort Greely have been launched in more than two years. And it sets the stage for the agency and missile-defense contractor Boeing to conduct a full-scale test later this year.

Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Carlton says Saturday’s test of the ground-based interceptor rocket and its so-called “kill vehicle” that destroys incoming enemy missiles, was a smashing success – even though the test didn’t involve smashing a target in space, as it's designed to do

“Getting back to flight testing has been the number-one priority for us,” she said, “and we’ve been working closely with our customers as well as our industry teammates to get to yesterday’s test.

Credit 49th Missile Defense Battalion
A large crane slowly lifts a ground-based interceptor at Fort Greely's missile base. The base, which has about 25 missiles in silos, is the hub of the U.S. military's ground-based midcourse missile defense system.

Missile Defense Agency officials declared the test successful because it proved the operability of a new-generation kill vehicle that is launched from the ground-based interceptor missile when it reaches outer space. The kill vehicle is designed to collide with and destroy an incoming enemy missile in space.

The missile defense base at Fort Greely is the hub of the nation’s Ground-based Midcourse missile-defense system. About 25 interceptor missiles are based at Greely.

The last time the system was tested, in December 2010, the kill vehicle malfunctioned and failed to intercept the dummy target missile. According to Bloomberg News, the $35 billion ground-based midcourse defense system hasn’t successfully intercepted a target missile since 2008. Bloomberg says the system has logged a 53 percent rate of success during several years of testing.

Carlton says even though testing had been suspended over the past couple of years, the system has remained up and running.

Credit 49th Missile Defense Battalion
An Army officer explains in a recent briefing the operation of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, the payload that rides atop the ground-based interceptor missile. When the missile reaches outer space, the kill vehicle launches on a collision course to intercept an enemy missile and slams into it, destroying it.

“Throughout our work, and throughout returning to flight, throughout the design solutions, GMD has always remained on alert,” she said. “This system is 24/7/365.”

Missile Defense officials say they’ll test the new and improved kill vehicle in upcoming testing involving a target missile later this year.

Bloomberg News says 10 of those missiles at Greely have been fitted with the new-generation kill vehicle that was successfully tested Saturday.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.