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Kinetic Energy Weapons Making Progress In ABM Program

The KEI still has a long way to go. But in all ballistic missile and BMD interceptor systems, the most crucial thing to get right is the power and reliability of the rocket engine. Speed, acceleration and range are the crucial factors without which any successful BMD interception can only remain pie-in-the-sky dreaming. In its core requirements, therefore, BMD really is rocket science.
By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jun 24, 2007
Last week's successful test-firing of the first stage rocket motor for the proposed U.S. Kinetic Energy Interceptor was totally ignored by the mainstream U.S. media and got only a handful of references even in the specialized defense and aerospace publications. But it offers the hope of a bold new era in ballistic missile defense technology. U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Henry A. "Trey" Obering announced the successful test on June 15.

The Missile Defense Agency said in a statement that the static test firing was carried out at the Alliant Techsystems Inc. facility in Promontory, Utah. The test involved "the successful ignition of the rocket motor, a full-duration 'burn,' and demonstrated the performance of the motor assembly and thrust vector control nozzle for what will be a very high-acceleration, high-velocity and extremely maneuverable interceptor missile," the MDA said.

"This was the second of five planned first-stage rocket motor ground tests," the agency said. "Following continued developmental tests of rocket motor stages and interceptor equipment, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor plans to conduct its first flight test in 2008," the agency said. Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the KEI program.

Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, said in a statement that the test was "the third in a series of static motor firings leading up to the program's first booster flight in 2008."

"Northrop Grumman is leading the industry team charged with developing and testing a KEI capability under contract to MDA. Raytheon Company is responsible for developing and integrating the KEI system's interceptor. The initial test results for the ignition and burn time matched expectations for motor performance and integrity," the ATK statement said.

"Having three highly successful test firings solidifies that we have a robust design leading to booster flight in 2008 and eventually providing our nation with the most advance missile defense capability." said Bill Condas, vice president, Strategic and Commercial Systems, ATK Launch Systems Group. "Our team's commitment to this technology and mission assurance will ensure success as we move forward through each milestone."

ATK said the KEI would be "deployable anywhere in the world using U.S. military aircraft." And in a potentially significant additional comment, the company added that the system was "being designed for easy transition to sea-based platforms."

Writing for UPI on April 27, Daniel Goure, vice president of the Arlington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank specializing in defense issues, described the KEI a "an extremely powerful missile that is intended to provide an option for boost-phase defense, intercepting long-range ballistic missiles in the earliest part of their flights."

Goure argued that the KEI represented the next stage of ballistic missile defense beyond the systems currently being deployed.

"With U.S. departure from the ABM Treaty, KEI was able, uniquely, to capitalize on and incorporate previously prohibited design features: mobility, deployability and sensor cueing from space," he wrote. Goure also noted the potential flexibility in deployment that should allow the KEI to be deployed on sea-based platforms, as ATK noted.

"KEI could be both land- and sea-based," he wrote. "In the latter configuration it could operate up close to many potential threats even in peacetime, ready to respond in seconds to a hostile launch. All the other mobile or sea-based missile defense systems are short-range and therefore unsuitable for intercepting long-range offensive missiles."

"Because of its throw-weight, KEI could also carry advanced warheads including large sensor packages or multiple kill vehicles to deal with future offensive threats, such as advanced penetration aids or fractionated warheads," Goure suggested.

But Goure wrote that he feared the KEI was falling victim to the MDA's otherwise successful and admirable concentration on developing and deploying BMD systems that were effective now, or will be in the near future, rather than spend increasingly limited resources on more visionary longer-term programs.

"Rather than putting its weight behind the KEI program, the missile agency has progressively cut back the program, delaying first deployment until well into the next decade," he wrote. "Since 2005, it has taken nearly $800 million from the program while racking up a series of failed GMD tests."

"One idea has been to deploy the KEI on the Navy's new class of cruisers, the CG(X). Because the Missile Defense Agency cannot make up its mind about KEI, it is contributing to delays in defining the characteristics of the CG(X)," Goure wrote.

He suggested, as an alternative, to plan to deploy the KEI "on a variant of the Navy's new class of amphibious ships, the LPD-17.

"More than 680 feet long, with a loaded weight of 25,000 tons, the LPD-17 could easily carry a large number of KEIs, as well as other air and missile defenses including the Navy's Aegis system," Goure wrote.

"KEI-equipped LPD-17s deployed in the Black and Aegean seas would negate any long-range missile threat from Iran whether directed at the United States or Europe," he wrote. "The same capability in the Sea of Japan could defend not only that country but the western United States, too."

The KEI still has a long way to go. But in all ballistic missile and BMD interceptor systems, the most crucial thing to get right is the power and reliability of the rocket engine. Speed, acceleration and range are the crucial factors without which any successful BMD interception can only remain pie-in-the-sky dreaming. In its core requirements, therefore, BMD really is rocket science.

The KEI passed its first crucial test in that field last week. The second generation of BMD got a whole lot nearer as a result.

Source: United Press International

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Moscow (AFP) June 20, 2007
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