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Special Briefing on Ballistic Missile Defense Test

NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, Director, BMDO Friday, Nov. 30, 2001 - 2:04 p.m. EST

(Special briefing on the ballistic missile defense test scheduled for Dec. 1. Also participating was Richard McGraw, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs. Slides used in this briefing are on the Web at )

McGraw: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As you know, there is a missile test launch tomorrow evening, and to give you some data on that and answer your questions this afternoon is Lieutenant General Ron Kadish, who is director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Office [Organization]. General Kadish?

Kadish: Well, good afternoon. We got an exciting test coming up tomorrow. But it's a -- the fifth in a series of intercept attempts that we've made since 1998, I believe. We've been successful in two of those so far, so two out of four. And we are confident that our test tomorrow will proceed as planned.

What I'd like to do today, because it's been since the end of July since we did the last one, is to explain what exactly we're going to do, once again, and to talk about some of the artificialities in the test, to make sure that everybody understands what we're doing, and then to answer some questions.

So if we start with the basics of what we're about to do from a developmental point of view on a missile defense test of the nature we're going to do tomorrow, it can be stated simply by saying that we are testing to learn. We are testing to learn, we are not testing as pass-fail for some operational reason. There seems to be confusion on this every time I discuss these types of tests, so I want to make sure that everybody understands what we are trying to accomplish. And that is, we're learning about the system, we will make corrections as a result of any anomalies, and we will continue to test to build our confidence and to learn more until such time as we feel confident to do operational testing against more realistic targets and more realistic scenarios.

So that's what we're doing.

Now let me explain the test, using some visual aids.

Could I have the next chart, please?

This is a trajectory depiction of a ballistic missile. It starts in the boost phase, goes through a midcourse, and ends up in a terminal phase as it heads towards the target. We are testing today in the midcourse. This is a ground-based midcourse, or what we used to call the National Missile Defense Program, but it's the midcourse section against a long-range missile that we are testing tomorrow in what we call Integrated Flight Test 7.

Next chart.

If you look at the complexity that we're dealing with, we have short-, medium-, intermediate-range missiles, as well as intercontinental, long-range missiles. That's depicted on this chart. What we're testing, again, is the midcourse against long-range missiles. That's that long bar between 5,500 and 10,000 kilometers. We've got other programs to address the shorter-range missiles that we are not testing tomorrow.

So that's the area that we're covering with this particular weapon system prototypes.

Next chart.

The objectives for this test are the same for this test as it was for IFT 3, our first intercept attempt, IFT 4, IFT 5 and IFT 6. We are trying to build the confidence in the system and to work out the minor and major anomalies that occur when we're testing unprecedented-type hardware for hit-to-kill types of technology. So there's no change here.

Next chart.

This is the kill vehicle. There's a model of it here, pretty much life size. This is the target we're going against, pretty much life size. Two small objects going in closing velocities of close to 15,000 miles per hour and trying to collide with one another; so that the target impact point is about this big, measured in centimeters, rather than in meters or feet.

So that's the challenge that we have tomorrow, and it's the same one that we've been using since we started these integrated flight tests -- intercept attempts -- a couple of years ago.

Now, the kill vehicle itself has no explosives on it. I think you all understand this is what we call "hit to kill," which means that the pure force of the collision, the kinetic energy produced, is sufficient to destroy the target, rather than using explosive force of any kind, either chemical or nuclear or otherwise. So this requires very much precision in our activities, as well as an awful lot of computing power and just a smart robot, if you will, that goes through space.

So that's the kill vehicle.

Next chart.

The targets activity are probably the only changes that we have here, in the sense that the actual launch vehicle that we have is something called the Orbital Sub-Orbital Target Program, as opposed to the Multi-Launch Service Target Program that we used before. Basically, no change here except it's a different type of launch vehicle. We had the same targets, however. We had a warhead and a large balloon.

Now, there has been some confusion over why this particular target suite has been in since IFT-3, our first intercept attempt. Some people say we should have a lot more countermeasures to test against. Some people say that these are not representative of the countermeasures of a warhead that we need to test against eventually for operational realism. The reason why we're doing this is that the large balloon as well as the warhead itself represent what I would like to call classes of threats -- not necessarily the specific threat we'll eventually go after, but classes of threat that give us enough test information in order for us to proceed with the development program.

So these are class-representative type of decoys and warheads. What that means is, is that the large balloon does not, and there is no intention of, actually replicating the warhead signatures that are in this particular target warhead. It's a class of warheads and a class of decoys. So it gives us valuable information. But I want to make sure everybody understands, they're not operational realistic in the sense that the balloon on this flight test is supposed to replicate the warhead on this flight test. That's not the case. But it's a very valuable set of information that we have to go against.

Next chart.

Now let me explain the test itself. I think you've seen this before. We launched the target out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It goes almost 5,000 miles down range in the South Pacific to Kwajalein Island where we launched the interceptor. There's a X-band radar located at Kwajalein as well as communications equipment at Kwajalein, and we test the various elements of the system from the launch detection of the defense port satellite in orbit today to the battle management at Cheyenne Mountain into the interceptor control at Kwajalein. And when the launch occurs, we expect an intercept over the South Pacific at 144 miles in space. As I said, we've done this four times before. Two have been successful, and we're going for another one tomorrow.

Now let me explain the test in more detail, because I think I need to explain once again some of the artificialities that are inherent in the type of testing we're doing earlier today -- or earlier in this program. Because there's been some misunderstanding and surprise, it seems to me, even though we've explained it before, in some of the articles that have been written and some of the discussion that has occurred.

So, in order to minimize the surprise, I'm going to try to explain it one more time.

The warhead has instrumentation on it. The warhead has different kinds of activities associated with it so that we know where it is. And we need to know where it is for two reasons. One is, very simply, because we want to know where it's going, from a range safety point of view. That's very important to us, because this warhead travels over Hawaii and goes long distances, and we want to know where it's going, and especially if there's an off-nominal kind of an approach.

The other thing we want is to get what call "truth data." The reason I'm able to stand up, and others are able to stand up, and explain to you what happens in a particular test is because we have an awful lot of data-gathering activities that show what we believe truth to have been in terms of the trajectory -- where in space and time each one of those objects were, so we can do the proper analysis to see how well the system is working. Okay?

So there is a safety aspect to it, and there is a post-mission and real-time accuracy requirement that we need to put in here. So the warhead has on it attitude, position, dynamics, temperature, and hit-location instrumentation. A threat warhead would not have that, okay? But we're not doing threat warheads; we are learning about the system, so we have to instrument it. It's very sophisticated.

Now, because we have -- next chart -- a radar in this that's required, called the GBR-P or X-Band Radar, Ground-Based Prototype Radar, it's at Kwajalein, and it's needed in order to accurately position and tell the system where these particular warheads are going in space. It happens to be -- and I've said this before many times -- in the wrong position for an operationally realistic look at the warhead. These things have been built in different locations over time, and that's one of the reasons why we have postulated an improvement to this particular test range by adding more and more capability in coming years to put these different assets in the right spot.

In order to overcome that artificiality, we have been able to put another radar, a test radar of a different sort, in Hawaii in order to track the targets early on. In order for that radar to pick up the warhead, because it's so small in space, there is a transponder on the warhead. All right? The transponder on the warhead helps that radar pick it up in the process. The data that's used from the instrumentation on the warhead is in no way used once the kill vehicle separates from the target to the target. So it's an artificiality of the test.

In addition to that, there's global positioning instrumentation on the warhead to show its position as well. That data is not used in the test to prove the actual hit-to-kill capability. The only thing we may use that data for is the initial tasking plan to the interceptor to tell it where to go in space the first time because these radars are out of place, and they're a surrogate for it. We are going to remove those surrogates and those artificialities as soon as we are able to do it in the upgrades of the test bed in the Pacific. And that won't be for some time yet. But we're working on ways to eliminate those artificialities.

So what will happen is, this instrumented interceptor or target will take off out of Vandenberg. As it approaches Hawaii and the sensors pick it up, from space as well as the ground, a weapons task plan will be issued to the interceptor on where to go in space. At the appropriate time, that interceptor will be launched. The kill vehicle will be separated from the interceptor. The kill vehicle immediately will reorient itself by doing star shots. It will orient towards a star map and then figure out its position. It will coast along a little longer to another star shot and compare its position and update it. And then as it approaches the constellation of the target, the infrared sensors will take over and position the kill vehicle in such a point to intercept and actually collide with the vehicle. So it's a very complex arrangement.

Q: Two star shots?

Kadish: Two star shots.

Next chart, please.

Again, the differences here are in the target. Now, there's been an awful lot of things that have happened, to software and little tweaks of the system that we are doing to make it better as we understood the last test results. So there have been some changes, but not massive changes in any of the activities that should cause us too much concern.

Next chart? I think that's it.

So, again I want to emphasize we are testing to learn. This is not a pass/fail test in the sense that we're trying to surprise ourselves with an operational target. There's no intent to do that. However, there are elements of operational realism within the test. The idea of having a decoy of some sort in there. The geometry that we have is somewhat representative of the class of things we would like to do.

And we will be taking an approach in the subsequent test to eliminate as many artificialities as we can, on our way to operational testing eventually, hopefully, with this system. So that's where we are.

There are an awful lot of things that have to happen right tomorrow. Before you ask, our next scheduled test is scheduled for the February time frame, three months from now. The last time, we told you we would be targeting October. We missed that by about four or five weeks. But we are narrowing the gap in terms of the developmental process on how fast we can do these tests as well as how effectively we think our process is to do them.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: How predictable are the missile trajectories? From the time a missile takes off to the time it hits, mathematically speaking is there a parabola that is pretty darn predictable?

Kadish: Once the warhead actually leaves the booster and becomes ballistic in flight, it is very predictable.

Q: The different launch vehicle, is that related to -- I can recall one of the failures that you-all had was a failure for the launch vehicle to separate from its booster? Am I remembering anything correctly?

Kadish: Yes. That was a painful memory, as I recall. (laughter)

Q: So is this new launch vehicle related to that, or is it a totally different subject?

Kadish: The difference in launch -- it's the same launch vehicle in both cases. We use the Minuteman prototypes for both the target as well as the interceptor. There's no change in the interceptor. Where we had the failure of separation before, we believe we have fixed that in the process, but it's the same booster we're using, with some changes to fix that particular problem.

Q: So that experience is wholly unrelated to the decision to change the launch vehicle?

Kadish: Right. The decision to change the launch vehicle -- the only changing we're doing in terms of launching is on the target side, in terms of the configuration of that vehicle.

Q: Timing sequence here. This is the fifth of 18 or 20 more tests, and when, in that 18-test sequence, would operational testing logically begin?

Kadish: When we're ready.

Q: That could mean five years from now, though.

Kadish: It could. It could be a lot sooner than that. It depends on how rapidly we are able to prove out the different modes of the system in that.

Q: But it's a sequence of 18, and among those 18, at some point, it will become operational. That's --

Kadish: Yes. And I think -- traditionally, what we do in all weapon-system development is that we do testing to learn -- developmental testing, which is what we're doing now; we do a combination of testing to learn and operational-type testing, and then we do operational testing. We're at the beginning of that process, and we should be entering the combination period in about two years or less.

Q: General, what will be the significance of a success be considered? It's hard to talk about the significance of a failure because we don't know what would have caused it. But you could talk about the significance of a success on your development trajectory?

Kadish: It will be one step forward on a journey. And that's the nature of this type -- these types of developments. The significance of a success will mean we learned a lot and got confidence to move to the next step. The significance of a failure will mean we learned a lot, and we'll make it right for the next test.

Q: Would a success mean that the next test would not have to be essentially identical to this one, as this one has been identical to the previous one? Would you be able to move to another phase with a success on Saturday night?

Kadish: Yes, that's a good question, and we've been asking it of ourselves a number of times. And I think, if we have success tomorrow, even if there's an anomaly of some sort, as we expect in a lot of these tests, we will have increased our confidence to move on to more aggressive and complicated efforts in these tests --

Q: Could you describe what those more aggressive and complicated efforts would be?

Kadish: The first one, and obvious one, is that we would be adding more countermeasure type of activity to the testing.

Q: With regard to that transponder, you said that the data from the transponder or beacon was not used to steer the kill vehicle after it separated from the booster, right? But what critics are arguing is that the ground-based interceptor got an incredibly precise read on where to aim in space from the data generated solely by the beacon; that basically, they got so close to where they were supposed to aim at, based on that beacon-only data, that they had very little work to do -- that they didn't have to rely so much on ground-based radar prototype data or even the kill vehicles' own organic sensors.

What do you say to that?

Kadish: I think that's a mischaracterization of the way these things run. It is complex enough to do what we're doing.

That weapons task plan that's issued would be equivalent, in my view, to an X-band radar, given that weapons task plan, with the precision that we need.

Now if it's 10 or 100 meters better than what we would predict from an X-band radar, I don't know. You'd have to look at the test data afterwards.

But the of the matter is, we do these types of tests in pieces. You want to have the vehicle in a basket, a certain area, so that the kill vehicle has within its own specifications the divert capability to actually do the intercept. So the issue with the weapons task plan is getting it in that basket. It's the same thing -- it's almost the same thing as saying, "Well, this test isn't very useful, because you're using a Minuteman prototype booster; you're not using the operational booster." I would equate it to the same idea.

Q: Unlike an X-band radar naturally picking up from the ground, this is data that's being beamed directly from the target to a radar to the battle management system -- (off mike) --

Kadish: I would not characterize it that way.

Q: How would you?

Kadish: You have a transponder that when the radar energy goes into it, interrogates it, and then the signal is strengthened back to that radar.

Q: Okay. Okay.

Kadish: So the radar is able to pick it up. It's like the instruments on commercial airliners that tell the FAA where they are.

Q: Can you say how precisely the -- how -- based only on the data that was generated by that transponder, how much of the work did that do for the system in ITF-6? In other words, how close in meters, say, did it get to where it ultimately ended up intercepting? In other words, the data that it was given from the beacon saying, "Go there" -- how far was "there" from where it ultimately intercepted? Can you say?

Kadish: I don't actually remember those numbers. But the question presupposes that we knew with certainty where that was going to be. That's only after you analyze the truth data that comes out of that instrumentation that you find out what -- calculate what that number is. I'll have to get it for you.

Q: Maybe the question is, how big is the target basket?

Kadish: It's pretty big, but I don't want to tell you what it is.

Q: Because? Because -- why not?

Kadish: Because I'm not sure of the classification of it. But if it's not classified, I'll give it to you. [The weapon task plan generated by X-band for interceptor prior to launch has a goal of directing the interceptor to within 1,000 meters of known target trajectory.]

Q: Have you fixed every single known thing that went wrong in those past tests, or are there --

Kadish: I sure hope so! (laughter)

Q: Yeah. But, I mean, are you confident that you have, or are there still some things out there that you just sort of figured, well, you know, we don't quite know why X happened; let's just see this time.

Kadish: It's in the nature of the development activities, because these things don't come back once you launch them -- at least not in one piece -- it's very difficult for us to know with absolute certainty that our analysis of the failure modes was as we thought they were. But we're pretty sure. So it's not 100 percent certain, but it's pretty high confidence. So, from that standpoint, we're pretty confident we fixed everything. But this is rocket science, so there is some chance that we missed something, and that's why we're testing.

Q: General, I'm not sure I understand when you were talking about increasing the complexity of the test. If you get a success this weekend, does that mean that you'll add more decoys in the next test, or do you mean further down the road? And what would it be, like another balloon or --

Kadish: Well, those decisions would have to be taken after we look at the test data and schedule the next test. But my supposition at this point would be that we would add more decoys, certainly of the balloon type, that are more wide-ranging in the class of threats that we would go after. And then we'd start from there, and then we'd look at the other things that we would want to do.

Q: General, I was wondering if you could step back a bit and maybe relate the impact, if any, that the events of 9/11 and the subsequent operation, Enduring Freedom, have had on your program.

Kadish: Well, from a -- I can tell you, from a personal point of view, as well as an organizational point of view, we happen to reside, since last February, up at the Navy Annex. And if you know where the Navy Annex is, it overlooks and has a wonderful view of Washington, and particularly the Pentagon. Every day we watch the scar on the Pentagon be rebuilt, and it certainly has an effect on us to want to make sure we do the best for the country in this time that's so unprecedented in our history.

So, I think from -- all the people involved in the program, from the contractors all the way through the people who work very closely with me every day, there's a renewed sense of urgency and a commitment to do the right thing as best we can.

So -- but from a programmatic point of view, we're still going as aggressively as we can, since at least I have taken the job.

Q: General, may I follow up on that for just a little bit? I was also wondering, you keep saying it's not a pass or fail test, but still, there would have been those outside, say in Congress, who would look at this as a pass-fail, and before the 11th, might have regarded this as yet another indication of -- this program should be cut short. I'm wondering if the September 11th might cut it a little slack in Congress? Do you think you have a little bit more leeway in terms of political support for the program, even if there were a failure?

Kadish: I always welcome support for what we're doing, but you'd have to ask the people on the Hill as to what the view of that is. Right now we're as focused as we can into making development decisions to move this program forward.

Q: But what would you --

Kadish: And I'm assuming we'll have the resources to do that.

Q: What would you say to those who might have once said, well, yet another failure. This will now put you on the three-to-two side, and let's move quickly now to cut off the funding before the basing structure in Alaska?

Kadish: Well, as I tried to indicate earlier, we are testing to learn, and failure and success -- although success is better -- gives us the ability to learn and make the future tests more opportunity to be successful. So this is in the nature of the business, and I don't know how to characterize it any way. And if people want to keep score and then derive from that whether we should move forward, we're just going to have to look at the facts based on what the country wants us to do. But many administrations and many Congresses have asked us to put forth a missile defense program, and that's what we're trying to do to the best of our ability.

Yes, sir?

Q: General Kadish, just was wondering if you could -- two things. One, have you basically given authority yet to the contractors to build hardware for an accelerated test program? And can you also give us an update on where you are with Boeing on cutting in the actual -- the booster for the kill vehicle?

Kadish: We have taken all the steps that we can properly take, given that we don't have an appropriation bill yet from Congress. So whatever we've been able to do to make sure that our plans are executable, we have taken.

In regard to the booster activity, I think we're close, or at least Boeing is close to informing us what their selection will be, and I expect that in a matter of weeks.

Q: Actually, that's not what I meant to ask. I meant to ask when are you going to be able to cut in Boeing's booster?

Kadish: Oh, in terms of the flight test?

Q: Yes.

Kadish: I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 15. We'll be with this particular prototype --

Q: IFT-12?

Kadish: Right. And I'd have to get you the exact one, because I can't remember.

Q: Is this the Boeing one, or the new one that Boeing has investigated? If you could just clarify.

Kadish: It depends. That's why we have an alternate boost. Okay? So, I guess the best way I'd characterize it is, whichever occurs first.

Q: But we'll go with the Minuteman, presumably, through IFT 11?

Kadish: The current prototype booster through 11, I think is what we're going to end up doing. It's not what I'd like to do, but that's what we have to do.

Yes, sir?

Q: General, was this test reviewed for ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty compliance?

Kadish: All our tests are reviewed for treaty compliance.

Q: And every subsequent test -- until there's a change in the U.S.'s position on the ABM Treaty, every subsequent test is going to be reviewed for treaty compliance?

Kadish: That's correct. We have a compliance process, and we're following it.

Q: General, a follow on that. Were there any elements of this test that had to be changed or scratched as a result of the compliance review?

Kadish: I think there has been an announcement: on that. There were three elements that could have been a part of this test that are not, because of the treaty. But it has not affected the schedule or the effort on the test.

Q: Since that announcement, were there any -- was it reviewed again, and were there any other changes after that announcement?

Kadish: There is a constant review of all the activities that we have ongoing, and I can't tell you real time what they are -- what the status of them are.

Q: What's your confidence level that you're going to have a successful hit to kill tomorrow?

Kadish: My confidence is the same as it was last time. And we wouldn't shoot it if we weren't confident that we were ready to do the test.

Q: And a follow-up. Have the Russians been invited to observe the test at any level here?

Kadish: Not to my knowledge.

Q: General, can you just elaborate on what was removed from this test? This was the Aegis radar SPY-1 tracking; is that correct?

Kadish: Correct.

Q: The one that Secretary Rumsfeld said, in late October, would have violated --

Kadish: Correct.

Q: Was that crucial to the test, or just kind of a guest at the party, so to speak?

Kadish: There's an awful lot of activities that we are trying to make part of the program now, that we are rethinking because of the treaty issues. All of those have to go through a compliance review. I wouldn't say at this point any of them are critical to what we're trying to do tomorrow in terms of the objectives we set. Now, in the future, as we plan these things out, I can't say.

McGraw: I'm afraid we're out of time, folks. Let me just announce, if I may, General, the launch window is from 9 p.m. tomorrow night until 1 [a.m.] Sunday morning; is that correct?

Q: Eastern time?

McGraw: Yes, Eastern time. We will not have a viewing here in the building. Assuming there is an intercept, we will announce that immediately afterwards.

Q: Or a failure?

Q: How?

McGraw: If there is not an intercept, we will announce that as well, but we will also have someone here from General Kadish's office to answer whatever questions we can at that time, recognizing that that's going to be minimal. And then, assuming there's an intercept, then within a week, 10 days maybe, General Kadish will come back and give the best results that we can after the data gets analyzed.

Thank you very much, General.

Q: Thank you.


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