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Army tests missile-tracking system

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (Army News Service, May 31, 2000) -The Army successfully completed a missile-tracking test at Schriever Air Force Base on May 28.

The test was part of developing a National Missile Defense system "to protect the nation from the growing threat of ballistic missile attacks," said Maj. Stuart Strong, program manager for the Battle Management Command.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization practiced its ability to reliably track a missile in flight in preparation for the next Integrated Flight Test, which is expected to occur in about six weeks.

Joint National Test Facility personnel tracked the launch of a modified U.S. Air Force Minuteman II missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The Minuteman was a hybrid made up of three stages from different Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missiles along with an Orbital Sciences Corporation front section. The test was conducted to determine if the hybrid could be used as a cheaper target for interceptor missiles. The rocket launch cost $11 million, compared to an average of $21 million for the use of a Minuteman III.

"Risk Reduction Flight demonstrations are conducted in conjunction with Minuteman test launches to reduce the cost and take advantage of other test support," said Strong. By piggy-backing off Minuteman test launches, these tests are accomplished with minimal costs and with a high degree of realism, he said.

Strong said the test will reduce the risks in the upcoming Integrated Flight Test-5, an attempt to intercept and destroy a target re-entry vehicle, scheduled for July.

The RRF tests are managed by the National Missile Defense Program Office through the Lead System Integrator contractor, Boeing Aerospace. RRF-8 involved test resources at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands; the Western Test Range; Vandenberg Air Force Base (target launch site); other radar data processing sites; and Defense Support Program Satellites (sensors and data processing).

During the test, the launch of the Minuteman II was detected by satellites representing the Space Based Infrared System. Raw data was transmitted to the JNTF, which translated the messages using the Integration, Test and Evaluation Unit. This translation allowed the Lead System Integrator to operate its battle management systems as though an integrated national missile defense system were in place.

The JNTF hosts a number of visitors for these classified flight test missions from throughout the missile defense community. Messages received by the screens are displayed in JNTF conference rooms. The LSI Mission Net and the Vandenberg Air Force Base Range Net (voice nets) are broadcast in the conference rooms so observers can follow the status during countdown and target fly-out.

All Missile Defense elements participate in rehearsals leading up to the flight test, where they exercise data and voice nets; procedures; and all hardware and software supporting the mission.