The Pentagon set June 22 for a next test of whether its $34 billion ground-based defense system can intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The effort to hit and destroy a dummy missile will be attempted with an improved Raytheon Co. warhead fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California against a target launched from a Pacific test range, the Missile Defense Agency’s congressional liaison office said in an e-mail yesterday to Senate and House defense committees. The newest version of the warhead will carry a redesigned inertial navigation unit and software upgrades, according to the e-mail.
The Pentagon hasn’t conducted a successful interception using the ground-based system since 2008. Two 2010 tests failed, as did one last July that used the older warhead that’s on 20 of the 30 interceptors based in silos at Vandenberg and Fort Greely, Alaska.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that successful testing of the new warhead is a prerequisite for the Pentagon’s plan to add 14 interceptors in Alaska by 2017 to counter what U.S. officials say is a growing threat from North Korea.
Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee today that a non-interception test of the new warhead in January 2013 found that a redesign had damped vibrations that caused one of the 2010 failures. The other 2010 failure was caused by quality issues that Raytheon has corrected, the agency has said.
The agency stopped taking deliveries of warheads from Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon after the 2010 failures.