U.S missile mimick test fails from Marshall Islands

05/02/2010 16:19

By Jim Wolf


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. attempt to shoot down a ballistic missile mimicking an attack from Iran failed after a malfunction in a radar built by Raytheon Co, the Defence Department said.


The botched $150 million (94 million pound) test over the Pacific Ocean coincided with a Pentagon report that Iran had expanded its ballistic missile capabilities and posed a "significant" threat to U.S. and allied forces in the Middle East region.


In the exercise on Sunday, both the target missile, fired from Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, and the interceptor, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, performed normally, the Missile Defence Agency said.


"However, the Sea-Based X-band radar did not perform as expected," the agency said on its website. Officials will investigate the cause of the failure to intercept, it said.


The SBX radar is a major component of the ground-based midcourse defence, the sole U.S. bulwark against long-range missiles that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.


It was the first time the United States had tested its long-range defence against a simulated Iranian attack.


Previous drills have imitated a flight path from North Korea, another country in a standoff with the international community over its nuclear program.


A review of ballistic missile defence released by the Pentagon on Monday said Iran had developed and acquired ballistic missiles capable of striking targets from the Middle East to Eastern Europe.




To counter the Iranian threat, the United States has expanded land- and sea-based missile defence systems in and around the Gulf, according to U.S. officials.


The deployments include expanded land-based Patriot defensive missile installations in Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Navy ships with missile defence systems in and around the Mediterranean, they said.


Raytheon and Boeing Co, which manages the core ground-based midcourse defence, declined to comment on the test failure. Harris Corp, which provides systems engineering for the SBX radar, said its technology was not involved.


David Altwegg, the Missile Defence Agency's executive director, said the layered, multibillion-dollar missile defence continued to be dogged by insufficient attention to detail by the Pentagon's top contractors. But he said it was too early to assess blame for the miss.


"We have problems with all our primes," Altwegg told a Pentagon budget briefing. He said it would probably take months to pin down exactly what went wrong. "Across the enterprise ... quality is a disappointment," he said.


Other major missile-defence contractors include Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp and Orbital Sciences Corp.


Speaking at the Reuters Aerospace and Defence Summit in Washington in December, Army Lieutenant General Patrick O'Reilly, head of the Missile Defence Agency, had said the flight test was to break new ground.


He described it then as "more of a head-on shot like you would use defending against an Iranian shot into the United States." It was the first time such a scenario was being tested, he said.


Experts have compared this to a bullet hitting another bullet in space. O'Reilly said the goal was to destroy the target over the north-central Pacific when the missiles had a combined closing speed of more than 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kph).


The SBX radar is mounted on a mobile, ocean-going oil-drilling platform designed to provide a powerful sensor that can be positioned to cover any spot on the globe.


(Additional reporting by Adam Entous; editing by Alan Elsner and Mohammad Zargham)