Jeffrey LewisWho Needs Intercept Tests?

In a pair of recent posts (12 JUN 2005 and 20 JUL 2005), I speculated the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) would scale back testing, largely to save itself embarrassment.

Image of an intercept during from IFT-7.
You won’t be seeing much of this in the coming years.

MDA’s Independent Review Team (IRT) issued a Final Report that recommended MDA meet suspiciously difficult criteria before conducting an integrated flight test (IFT). The reason? North Korea might get wind the damn thing doesn’t work:

I criticized the IRT Report because I suspected the panel intended its recommendations to stop—not just slow—testing, largely to shield MDA from embarrasment.


The IRT’s decision to consider non-technical factors—such as likely North Korean perceptions—struck me as suspicious. Such considerations exceed the panel’s Terms of Reference as summarized in the Final Report. Moreover, the Independent Review Team members had no obvious expertise about how North Korea would likely to perceive such a system.


If MDA accepts the IRT recommendations, I suspect few tests will be flown. If the system is a dud, it is better not to know, they imply. The AP story announcing no tests until fall “at the earliest” is suspicious, to say the least.

The IRT recommended making the next IFT a “non-intercept test”—in other words, don’t even bother trying to hit the target.

Now, Wade Boese reports in Arms Control Today that the Missile Defense Agency went the IRT one better, making the next two Integrated Flight Tests (IFT) “non-intercept tests.”

MDA will not attempt to actually intercept a warhead until sometime in 2006.


Lisbeth Gronlund has a great review of the IRT report in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. A preview:

The next flight-test should not be an intercept test, the review team suggests. Instead, it should be used to evaluate the basics of how the interceptor itself functions. That might be a less theatrical approach to evaluating missile defense, but it would likely yield fewer public embarrassments.


  1. Victoria Samson (History)

    At the SMDC conference in August, they announced the following schedule for the GMD test program:
    •FT-1: the next GMD test and to be conducted in CY 05 (non-intercept attempt). It’ll be in the Sept-Nov timeframe, with the interceptor coming from Kwajalein.
    •FT-2: Feb-March 2006. No actual target – will be a simulated one coming down the West coast. Interceptor coming out of VAFB; based on Beale radar.
    •FT-3: May-June 2006. This will be an end-game performance test with the target; not making claims an intercept will occur, but want to make sure that the EKV works as anticipated. Interceptor coming out of VAFB; based on Beale radar.
    •FT-4: Aug-Nov. 2006. This is the first planned intercept attempt. Interceptor coming out of VAFB; based on Beale radar.