Jeffrey LewisWill MDA Ever Attempt Another Intercept?

Arms Control Today asked MDA Director Trey Obering about speculation that MDA is scaling back testing to avoid further failures. Obering asserted that MDA would conduct four flight tests over the next year:

ACT: Going back to testing, there are some people that have read the Independent Review Team report as suggesting that MDA should cut back on its flight testing to avoid failures that might undercut the system’s deterrent value in a potential adversary’s eyes. Is this an accurate reading of the report or the strategy behind MDA’s delay in resuming intercept testing [of the ground-based midcourse system]?

Obering: Absolutely not. When we get back into the air in our test program—and we believe that that will be in the next couple of months here—then we plan to fly four times in 12 months. That is a much increased pace over what we have done in the past.

“Some people” include the author of this blog. See: Integrated Flight Tests Hate Our Freedoms (ACW, 12 June 2005) and Who Needs Intercept Tests (26 September 2005).

I e-mailed MDA Spokesman Rick Lehner, who provided some information about the four tests that General Obering described:

  • The first test is planned for next week. MDA will launch an interceptor—no target launch and no intercept—from Meck Island in Kwajalein Atoll as a test of the operational booster, kill vehicle, ground support equipment and the command and control system.
  • Next year, MDA will launch an “operationally-configured interceptor” from Vandenberg AFB for the first time. This test will not include a target launch or an intercept because “this will be the first time an interceptor will have been launched from VAFB.” (more)
  • The third test will also be from Vandenberg. Lehner indicated this will “will likely involve a target but no decision yet whether this will be a ‘fly-by” data collection flight or an intercept.”
  • Lehner described the fourth test as “an operationally-realistic launch of an interceptor from VAFB and a target from Kodiak, Alaska and will be a planned intercept attempt.”

Lehner said not test dates have been set, but will likely be three to four months apart.

We’ll see, but I am sticking by my suspicion that few, if any, intercept tests will ever be flown.

After all, why test the GBI if you just plan to give up on the Disasta’ in Alaska?

MDA planned to install “up to eleven (11) additional GBIs at Fort Greely in 2005,” but ACW reader Allen Thomson notes that MDA installed just one in 2005.

The system has still not been declared operational and the Senate Appropriations Committee revealed MDA “plans only marginal improvements to the capability of the GMD program’s Ground-based Interceptor” and “has now essentially decided that the first generation GBI will also be its last generation GBI.”

Late Update: Dave Ruppe has more on the abandonment of GBI and the four IFTs.