Grading The BMDS

By John Liang / April 4, 2011 at 8:34 PM

The Pentagon's chief tester told Congress last week that his assessment of the various capabilities of the Ballistic Missile Defense System remained unchanged.

"Although we've gotten additional very useful information, in my annual report I have not changed my assessment this year or the last year in terms of demonstrating capability of the Ballistic Missile Defense System," Michael Gilmore testified at a March 31 House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing.

In his testimony, Gilmore gave Congress his grades -- via a six-point scale -- on the elements of the BMDS. Level 1 is "where capabilities are estimated using engineering analysis and laboratory testing," and Level 6 is "where capabilities are verified across the full range of scenarios and conditions possible in real world operations using a combination of rigorous flight testing and rigorously accredited ground testing models and simulations," he said.

On that scale, the Patriot missile system "has demonstrated Level 6 against short-range ballistic missiles. That is not to say that Patriot meets all of its requirements, but it has been rigorously tested across a broad range of conditions and scenarios," according to Gilmore.

The 3.6.1 version of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system is at Level 5 "against short-range ballistic missiles and the lower end of the range capable of medium-range ballistic missiles," Gilmore said, although against the "upper end of the range possible for medium-range ballistic missiles and the lower end of intermediate-range ballistic missiles" the system got a Level 4 rating. This was mainly due to its not having been tested yet against such threats, although he said that next month the Pentagon "will conduct a test against an IRBM at 3,700 kilometers range."

That intercept test "will incorporate a cue from a forward-based AN/TPY-2 radar and possibly launch on remote of the Aegis interceptor. And those are all important capabilities that demonstrate the support and implementation of the phased adaptive approach phase I to the defense of Europe," Gilmore said, adding that he assessed the European PAA to be at Level 4 against short-range ballistic missiles. "That's because it's been tested only against simple short-range ballistic missiles and the limitations on testing in [the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system] up to this point are in part due to the target failures that occurred last year."

Had the THAAD target not failed to ignite upon launch from a C-17 cargo aircraft, Defense Department testers would have been able to do a test against a more complex SRBM, according to Gilmore. "But so far we've only tested against simply short-range ballistic missiles and have not tested against other advanced capabilities of THAAD." Additionally, THAAD is at Level 3 against medium-range ballistic missiles "because it hasn't yet been tested against those," he continued.

As for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, Gilmore graded it at Level 3 "because it's been tested only against IRBMs. The first ICBM test is now schedule for the fourth quarter of Fiscal '17 in simple threat presentations with no silos, no simultaneous engagements and many of the models are not accredited," he added.