A test launch for the missile-defense system is planned for Thursday at Vandenberg Air Force Base, but it won’t involve an intercept attempt.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency intends to conduct a test of a ground-based interceptor between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. from an underground silo on North Base.
"The 30th Space Wing has a long and proud history of working diligently alongside our Missile Defense Agency partners to provide safe launch operations for missile defense tests," said Col. Shane Clark, 30th Space Wing vice commander, who also will give the final permission for the launch to occur.
"It's an honor for the wing to work with the Missile Defense Agency and other mission partners on this test mission which is extremely important to our national security,” Clark added.
This week’s mission calls for just one liftoff and no intercept attempt, although many past missile-defense tests at Vandenberg did involve an interceptor launch taking aim at a target weapon that blasts off from either the Kwajalein Atoll or Alaska,
The primary purpose of this week's test launch, once planned for 2015, is to demonstrate the performance of “alternate divert thrusters” on the interceptor vehicle in a flight environment, Missile Defense Agency officials said.
While the problem initially was addressed with software upgrades, the redesigned component is expected to fix the fundamental root cause of the problem.
“This will be a great test in terms of engineering learning,” Syring told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The three-stage interceptor will be used in a non-intercept flight test against an air-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile filled with countermeasures and decoys.
This will allow the test's secondary purpose to conduct advanced target discrimination with a goal of boosting system performance, officials said.
The test will be conducted by the 30th Space Wing, the Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Northern Command.
Later this year, the agency plans to conduct a full intercept test with countermeasures, Syring said.
In 2017, the schedule calls for a “salvo” test with two ground-based interceptors against one ICBM target with a hope of learning what the second interceptor observes.
The ground-based missile-defense systems has 26 interceptors on alert in Alaska plus four at Vandenberg.
The agency plans to boost the number of intercepts on alert to 44 by the end of 2017.