By John Liang / December 5, 2008 at 5:00 AM

UPDATE: The Missile Defense Agency announced today that its Ground-based Midcourse Defense system conducted a successful intercept of a ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean. According to the agency's statement:

For this test, a threat-representative target missile was launched from Kodiak, Alaska at 3:04pm (EST).This long-range ballistic target was tracked by several land- and sea-based radars, which sent targeting information to the interceptor missile. At 3:23pm (EST)the Ground-Based Interceptor was launched from the Ronald W. Reagan Missile Defense Site, located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The interceptor's exoatmospheric kill vehicle was carried into the target's predicted trajectory in space, maneuvered to the target, performed discrimination, and intercepted the threat warhead.

This was the first time an operational crew located at the alternate fire control center at Ft. Greely, Alaska remotely launched the interceptor from Vandenberg AFB. In previous interceptor launches from Vandenberg, military crews at the fire control center at Schriever AFB, Colo. remotely launched the interceptor.

The target was successfully tracked by a transportable AN/TPY-2 radar located in Juneau, Alaska, a U.S. Navy Aegis BMD ship with SPY-1 radar, the Upgraded Early Warning Radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and the Sea-Based X-band radar.  Each sensor sent information to the fire control system, which integrated the data together to provide the most accurate target trajectory for the interceptor.

As Inside Missile Defense reported in May, MDA retooled the program’s flight-test lineup following the last delay in the intercept test schedule:

FTG-4, the intercept test originally scheduled for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2007 -- which had been pushed back to the second quarter of FY-08, and then pushed back again from this summer to early autumn -- has been renamed FTG-5, according to MDA spokesman Rick Lehner.

A telemetry unit aboard the exoatmospheric kill vehicle failed a recent electrical test, necessitating its replacement and causing the intercept-test delay, Lehner told IMD May 14.

The unit is called the Pulse Code Modulation Encoder, according to Lehner. It transmits real-time EKV performance data via telemetry.

Built by L-3 Communications West, the unit is only used during test flights and “has no role in an operational EKV,” he wrote.

Outgoing MDA Director Lt. Gen. Trey Obering “decided to move the test to the fall rather than risk losing performance data, as obtaining the data is one of the primary objectives of the test,” Lehner added.

Accordingly, FTG-4 was supplanted by a test that did not involve an interceptor:

“FTG-4 will be replaced by FTX-3, a target-only test, planned for July using all available range sensors -- transportable AN/TPY-2 at Juneau, AK, an Aegis ship and ((Sea-Based X-band Radar)), as well as Beale ((Air Force Base)) upgraded early warning radar,” Lehner told IMD May 15.

The target test flight “will provide ((an)) excellent risk-reduction flight for the FTG-5 intercept test, now scheduled for late this fall,” he wrote in an e-mail.

MDA’s FY-09 budget justification book states that FTG-4’s test objectives were to have included “demonstrat((ing)) the functionality of the GBI engage on ((upgraded early warning radar)) or AN/TPY-2 ((engagement sequence group)) for a GBI launched from Vandenberg AFB performing all functions through acquisition, discrimination, transition to terminal, and intercepting the lethal object from a live target complex launched from Kodiak using a more complex target scene than previous tests.”

Objectives for FTG-5, according to MDA’s latest budget book, include: “Demonstrate ((Ballistic Missile Defense System)) multisensor integration and functionality of the GBI engage on UEWR, AN/SPY-1, AN/TPY-2 or ((Sea-Based X-band radar)) for GBI launched from Vandenberg AFB to perform all functions through acquisition, discrimination, transition to terminal, and intercepting a medium/high closing velocity lethal object.”

One missile defense critic didn't wait for the test to take place. Phil Coyle, a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information, sent out an e-mail to reporters last night stating:

If there were a credible threat, U.S. missile defenses can't deal with it anyway. If Iran or North Korea believed that U.S. missile defenses were effective, they would simply build more missiles or use decoys and countermeasures. That's what's behind the test scheduled for tomorrow, but if successful it won't prove what the MDA will say it proves.

U.S. missile defenses have no demonstrated effectiveness to defend Europe or the U.S. under realistic operational conditions. U.S. missile defenses lack the ability to deal with decoys and countermeasures, lack demonstrated effectiveness under realistic operational conditions, and lack the ability to handle attacks involving multiple missiles.

Proposed U.S. missile defenses in Europe are threatening to Russia, and are causing the Cold War with Russia to be reignited. Proposed space-based missile defenses are also threatening to Russia, as well as China.

Can America depend on missile defenses for its security? Unfortunately the answer is no. The United States has been trying unsuccessfully to develop effective missile defenses for over 60 years, and we still don't know how to deal with a realistic threat. Fortunately we don't have a real threat unless you want to worry about Russia or China someday, and with their missiles Russia and China already can overwhelm the most futuristic missile defenses the Pentagon can imagine.