Next U.S. Missile Defense Test to Have Three Decoys

Article excerpt

THE PENTAGON IS planning to make its next attempt to destroy a mock strategic warhead in space more challenging than previous ground-based midcourse missile defense tests by increasing the number of balloon decoys accompanying the target from one to three.

In past intercept tests, the Pentagon has deployed only a single large balloon decoy with the target warhead, but in a test scheduled for mid-March, two smaller Mylar balloons will also be deployed, according to a spokesperson from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the body overseeing U.S. missile defense efforts.

The next test will mark the sixth intercept attempt for the Pentagon's ground-- based midcourse system, which has scored three hits in five attempts since October 1999. The last test, a hit, occurred December 3.

Days before that test, Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, the MDA's director, told reporters that, if the test succeeded, the Pentagon would have greater "confidence to move on to more aggressive and complicated [testing] efforts." He said that the "obvious" way of making tests tougher would be to add "more counter-- measure type of activity."

A decoy is one kind of countermeasure that a potential adversary could use to try to circumvent a future U.S. missile defense system. Another would be hiding a warhead in a cloud of radar-reflecting chaff.

Previously known as the national missile defense system, the ground-based midcourse system is comprised of a powerful booster that carries an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) into space to collide with an incoming target. The Pentagon plans for the system ultimately to use a combination of satellite systems and an advanced radar, none of which currently exist, to track and discriminate warheads and decoys. The EKV is also equipped with infrared sensors to help it select the right target in the final seconds before a collision. During tests, the Pentagon has preprogrammed the EKV with information about test objects, such as their relative brightness, to help it strike the proper target.

Missile defense testing plans in 1997 called for 9-10 objects, including balloons of various sizes, to accompany a mock warhead in early intercept testing. …