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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005

Rocket to test cruiser's capability

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

MANA, Kaua'i — The Pacific Missile Range Facility will fire a target rocket about 11 a.m. today to see if it can be shot down by a Navy Aegis cruiser as part of a series of tests of the Navy's ballistic missile defense effort.

The exercise, titled Flight Test Mission 04-1 or FTM 04-1, is the sixth such test in the mid-Pacific. The rocket launch likely will not be visible to those outside the vicinity of the missile range.

The exercise will involve two ships: the cruiser USS Lake Erie to the west of Kaua'i and the destroyer USS Russell to the northeast.

Missile Defense Agency spokesman Chris Taylor said today's test differs from the previous five in that it employs an operational version of the tracking and intercept software, while the others have used less sophisticated test programming.

Four of the five previous tests resulted in actual contact between the interceptor and the target. That is critical to the success of the program, because the Navy's Aegis ballistic missile defense system — aimed at short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats — uses a kinetic warhead. That means it needs to hit the target to destroy it, as opposed to one that can damage a target by exploding nearby.

The missile range will fire a rocket toward the northwest that will mimic the trajectory of a short-range ballistic missile. Moving at a speed of 5,000 mph, it will reach an altitude of about 100 miles roughly 300 miles from the island, Taylor said.

The USS Russell, which has a new long-range surveillance capability, will feed information on the target's trajectory via satellite to the USS Lake Erie. The Lake Erie will use that information and its own system to track the test rocket and use the new missile defense software to determine how to intercept it.

Once an intercept solution is determined, the Lake Erie will fire an updated version of the three-stage Standard Missile-3. The kinetic warhead will be ejected from the third stage and is designed to make final adjustments in its course before intercepting the target outside Earth's atmosphere.

If weather or other factors delay the launch, it may be rescheduled for tomorrow or Saturday.

Taylor said the target launch and intercept is part of a complex naval exercise that tests multiple war scenarios. This specific test is designed to evaluate the latest version of the Navy's Aegis missile defense system and to identify areas that need modifications or upgrades.

The Aegis missile defense program is managed by the Navy and the Missile Defense Agency. Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors of Moores-town, N.J., is the contractor for the Aegis weapon system and Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., is the military's contractor for the Standard Missile.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.