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National Missile Defense Test Hits Target

National Missile Defense Test Hits Target

By Jim Bennett, Army News Service.

Kwajalein, Marshall Islands -- (ANS) July 18, 2001-- An exoatmospheric kill vehicle launched from Kwajalein Atoll destroyed a target warhead re-entering the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean July 15.

The National Missile Defense program will now jump-start to four tests a year, officials said, following Sunday's "hit to kill."

"The world watched today," said Jerry Cornell, Boeing site manager. "This keeps the program where it needs to be."

Cornell said the stepped-up testing schedule will not require more personnel living on Kwajalein, but will result in more numerous visits by the 315 or so personnel on temporary duty who attended Sunday's launch.

And Cornell didn't understate the amount of interest in the test. In fact, 38 video teleconferencing centers across the United States showcased the event for people from the military, government and media. More than 10 centers in the Washington, D.C. area, alone, featured video from the launches and control rooms. Other sites included Huntsville, Ala., Colorado Springs, Colo., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to name a few.

  • An Early Start

Mission day opened with an early morning boat ride from Kwajalein to Meck. More than 200 staff crowded on the catamaran Jelang-K in the pre-dawn light, around 6 a.m.

Dressed in matching shirts, various groups gathered on the upper deck and in the two large cabins. Battle Management Command, Control and Communications team members dressed down in blue aloha shirts. Raytheon EKV and Boeing mission personnel wore golf shirts. Lockheed Martin staff sported baseball jerseys.

"Everybody has their thing," said Fred Lackey, a public affairs specialist for the NMD program.

"You won't see red, though. Red on a range means stop," he said. The team seemed in good spirits Sunday morning, quietly joking.

"There was a lot of confidence," said Mission Director Kenny Ivey. "We were going to have a success."

And yet, underneath all the confidence, Ivey said the team recognized the need to make an intercept after two failed attempts. The last successful hit had come in October 1999 during IFT-3.

"There was more tension, more stress [than IFT-5 in July 2000]," Ivey said. "There was a lot of external pressure for the program. The program needed this success. And there was internal pressure for ourselves. This is what we live for."

Despite the pressure, preparations for IFT-6 seemed to go more smoothly than the past two missions, according to John Fratangelo, chief scientist for the independent assessment team.

"We didn't have the issues," Fratangelo said. "On the last two, we had something right down to the last day."

Fratangelo has worked on missile programs for more than 30 years. He spent 13 of those years on Kwajalein. He returned to the island for IFT-6. His job is to think of things that others might have forgotten, to consider possibilities others have not.

  • Missile Launch

Shortly after lunch, for those who ate, the control room filled to capacity, each seat taken by an expert or representative of some group or another. At the center table facing a large video screen sat Maj. Gen. Willie Nance, NMD program manager, flanked by Brig. Gen. (P) John Urias, SMDC deputy commanding general, and Jim Evatt, executive vice president and general manager of Boeing missile defense systems. All sat and whispered as radio traffic came over the intercom.

"This is a status check."

"All is green, no exceptions."

At T-7 minutes, however, 1:58 p.m., reports came in of two Zodiacs in the boat exclusion zone at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. U.S. Coast Guardsmen picked them up, but the mission would briefly stop. At 2:15 p.m., the clock resumed at T-25 minutes.

At 2:40 p.m., the screen showed an open field at Vandenberg. When the countdown reached 0, a blast filled the center screen and a missile shot from the underground silo.

A chorus in the room rang out, "All right," and the clock for the interceptor continued its countdown.

A graphic display showed the trajectory of the target. All systems reported again, "green."

Around 3 p.m., the countdown fell to the final seconds for the ground-based interceptor launch. As it shot into the heavens, the windowless rooms shuddered slightly, and all could hear the muffled roar of the blast off. Again, some low, quiet cheers accompanied the launch.

The video displayed the missile in flight so clearly one could read the decals on the side. As the booster separated, the groups cheered again. The displays returned to a map showing green and red lines approaching each other - one the target, the other the interceptor. Moments before the scheduled intercept, the screen changed to a black and white video feed. A little white dot known to be the interceptor seemed to hang in space until the countdown to intercept reached zero at 3:09:42. A pause followed, and a bright flash filled the screen. The audience erupted in cheers.

  • Post-Op

Though filled with excitement, team members still had to complete some final kill assessments, and many reports would have to be filed and briefings given.

The first, called a "Hot Wash," united the control room teams for a quick overview of the mission.

Ivey reported with a smile on his face, "Everything was nominal."

"It went extremely well," Ivey said later. "It couldn't have gone better." Ivey will leave his job at Kwajalein this week. Of his departure and the mission he said, "I went out with a bang."

"Though we've had some setbacks over the last year, we've learned a lot, too," Nance said. "It has been a long year and a lot of work by everyone here."

Urias agreed, adding later, "This is a big step for SMDC, and the NMD team is unbelievably professional."

  • What's Next

With Sunday's success, NMD remains on schedule to host four or more tests a year in the upcoming years, and as Cornell said, "That will keep us extremely busy."

But the test could have other ramifications for Kwajalein.

Mitch Kugler, staff director, Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services, Committee on Governmental Affairs, sat at the table alongside Nance. He'll take what he saw back to Congress, and he said the success will help him support the program.

"It's not a question of whether or not we can do this, but whether or not we'll put the distractions aside and do it," Kugler said. "The people who support it will still be for it, and the people who are against it will still be against it. What this does is lend credence to the people who support it and goes against the people who say the technology is not there. We've done it twice now."

(Editor's note: Jim Bennett is editor of the Army's Kwajalein Hourglass newspaper.)


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).