MDA pushes new boundary in releasing flight test animation video

By Jason Sherman / November 17, 2020 at 12:04 PM

The Missile Defense Agency, which spends more than $1 billion annually on testing, did something completely new today as part of announcing the most significant flight test on its 2020 calendar: it made public a two-minute animation of the event to help explain what goes into a complex ballistic missile defense scenario such as this week's Flight Test Aegis Weapon System-44 (FTM-44) that stretched across multiple time zones and military test ranges.

The slick video, which does not have an audio track, opens with a key disclaimer -- that the depiction is neither to scale not in real-time -- with a view from space of Earth rotating, with North America in clear view. Key players in the drama are introduced in turn as the planet rotates.

First, the Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center, an MDA facility at Schriever Air Force Base, CO, comes into view. The MDIOC is dedicated to space systems that facilitates the integration and demonstration of missile defense space capabilities with other defense and national security systems, particularly the Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) system.

Next, in the Pacific Ocean far off the California coast -- playing the archetypal hero role -- are the twin systems of a ballistic missile defense-capable destroyer: the Lockheed Martin-developed Aegis Baseline 9.C2 weapon system and the new interceptor, the Standard Missile-3 Block IIA built by Raytheon and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Lastly, the culprit: several thousands of miles to the west, the intercontinental ballistic missile-representative target launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

As the ICBM is launched, other key players come into view, including "Satellite 1" and "Satellite 2" -- presumably capabilities such as the Space Tracking and Surveillance System and the new Space Based Kill Assessment.

After launch, the target is acquired by the satellites and passes the track back to the C2BMC system in Colorado which oversees the global network of workstations, servers, and network equipment as well as software that effectively stitches together all elements of the Ballistic Missile Defense System -- allowing operators to plan activities, see an attack against the United States unfold and manage radars.

As the ICBM approaches Hawaii, the land-based SPY-6 radar, the Navy's new Air and Missile Defense Radar at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, feeds C2BMC what it is seeing.

In addition, sea-based mobile sensor platforms that support MDA are in the vicinity of the destroyer, including MV Pacific Collector and MV Pacific Tracker.

Airborne support for the flight test was provided by a number of MDA's High Altitude Observatory aircraft and also from Cast Glance, a stabilized photo-optical system "that provides excellent quality, high-resolution photographic coverage of air-to-air, air-to-surface or surface-to-air test operations," according to

The C2BMC relays via Link 16 to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer John Finn (DDG-113) patrolling the Pacific "engagement quality system track."

The Finn's crew in the animation is then seen in the combat information center -- sailors donning headsets, in front of computer screens -- presumably putting information provided by C2BMC to use, planning and scheduling an SM-3 Block IIA engagement against the ICBM using "system data track."

"Eagle Away" is the code used during the animation for interceptor launch, as the SM-3 Block IIA races toward the sky, jettisoning its first, then second stage as it charts a course beyond the atmosphere for the kinetic kill vehicle to fall in right on the trail of the ICBM's flight path.

Still using track data, the kill vehicle creeps up on its target, the Divert and Attitude Control System providing short bursts to guide the weapon to intercept.

Check out MDA's video of the actual intercept here.