US Missile Defense, Jane’s by IHS Markit Commentary

By Daniel Wasserbly, Americas Editor, Washington Bureau Chief, Jane’s by IHS Markit

The US homeland missile defense system, known as Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), succeeded in its first ever attempt to intercept an ICBM-range target, according to the Missile Defense Agency.

GMD is designed to shoot down missiles in the event of a limited North Korean attack against the US homeland.

This test was a long-planned event, but GMD is directly linked to Pyongyang’s strategic weapons program. North Korea has not yet fielded an ICBM-range missile but is expected to begin testing one soon.

(US interceptor missile successfully destroys ICBM. Courtesy of Fox News and YouTube)

The GMD system launches a Ground-Based Interceptor that boosts a kill vehicle into the exoatmosphere.

The vehicle then separates from the rocket booster near the incoming warhead’s path, and tries to identify it and then collide with and destroy it.

This test used the latest re-design of the kill vehicle, known as the CE-II Block I, which is meant to fix issues with the original kill vehicle’s thrusters that direct it towards the target.

(Pentagon successfully tests ICBM intercept defense system for first time. Courtesy of The Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance and YouTube)

GMD’s interceptors have had a troubled test record.

Both variants of its Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) have suffered problems and failed intercept tests, spurring several short- and long-term upgrade efforts to address reliability and capability shortfalls.

This was the 18th intercept test for GMD since the programme kicked off in 1999, and the 10th since it was declared operational in 2004. Since 1999 it has scored 10 intercepts in 18 attempts.

The US Missile Defense Agency has 36 interceptors in place: 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and 32 at Fort Greely in Alaska, and the government is on track to have a 44 by the end of 2017.

A key next step for the homeland defense system will be a test in early 2018 during which the government hopes demonstrate GMD’s full capability with a ‘salvo intercept’ that uses two weapons to engage one incoming ICBM-range target.

About the Author

Daniel Wasserbly
Daniel Wasserbly

Mr. Daniel Wasserbly serves as Americas Editor for IHS Jane’s, managing coverage of the United States, as well as North and South America. His areas of expertise include U.S. military equipment, U.S. defense budgeting, military operations and missile defense.

A seasoned journalist, he has studied and written about defense issues for the last eight years, including coverage of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Wasserbly’s degrees include a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Boston University, Boston, Mass., U.S., and a Master of Arts in Security Studies from George Washington University, Washington, D.C., U.S.​