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Northrop Grumman Develops New GPS Range Tracking System for Minuteman III ICBM

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 7 during an operational test to determine the weapon system's reliability and accuracy. U.S. Air Force photo/Mark P. Mackley
by Staff Writers
Vandenberg AFB (SPX) Feb 11, 2007
A newly certified Global Positioning System range tracking system, developed for the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile by Northrop Grumman Corporation, was successfully flown at Vandenberg Air Force Base for the first time this week as one of the two independent tracking systems required for range safety.

The GPS Metric Tracking System (GMTS) was developed, tested and provided by Northrop Grumman's Mission Systems sector as part of its role as the U.S. Air Forces' ICBM prime integrating contractor.

"This new system will greatly improve capabilities for range users through more precise tracking, fewer range delays caused by radar downtime and significantly reduced launch support costs," said John Clay, vice president and general manager of the Northrop Grumman ICBM Prime Contract.

"This successful flight represents the excellent engineering support and coordination between the Air Force and the ICBM prime team and will further enhance our ability to deliver a reliable land-based strategic deterrent to our customer."

The GMTS replaces the C-band transponders previously used to track the Minuteman III test launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. As directed by the Air Force Space Command, the C-band tracking system is to be deactivated in FY 2007 for cost savings and modernization. The C-band tracking radars use the onboard C-band transponder signal to lock onto the missile and track missile position and velocity.

The GMTS now utilizes the GPS satellite constellation to ensure accurate tracking worldwide. The Minuteman III incorporates GPS translators on the missile to receive information from the satellites and relay translated time and identification data to ground facilities. This data is used to more accurately calculate the position and velocity of the missile, which is required for range safety tracking during missile flight.

Northrop Grumman is the Air Force's ICBM prime integration contractor charged with modernizing and maintaining alert readiness of the U.S. ICBM weapon system through 2020. The company manages a team consisting of three principal teammates -- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ATK -- and more than 20 subcontractors.

earlier related report
Vandenberg team launches Minuteman III
Vandenberg AFB CA (AFNS) Feb 11 - An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was launched from North Vandenberg Feb. 7 at 12:14 a.m. "This program is key to our constant assessment of the reliability of our ICBM fleet," said Brig. Gen. C. Donald Alston, director of Air Force Space Command's Air, Space and Information Operations.

"Every successful test validates the readiness of this bedrock of America's nuclear deterrent force. It says a lot about the missile crews, maintainers and supporting agencies that are out in the missile fields 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year protecting our nation."

The launch was part of an operational test to determine the weapon system's reliability and accuracy.

The missile's single unarmed re-entry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles before hitting its pre-determined target at the Reagan Test Site on the Marshall Islands. The Minuteman missile from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., was pulled randomly from the ICBM missile field there and transported to Vandenberg where it was configured under conditions similar to a real-world missile launch from one of the many missile silos located throughout the United States.

The data collected will be used by the entire ICBM community, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.

The reliability and accuracy of the data also will be used by U.S. Strategic Command planners.

"While it can seem routine, each launch test requires considerable time and effort from the 200-plus Airmen in the 576th Flight Test Squadron," said Lt. Col. S. L. Davis, 576th FLTS commander, the mission director for this launch. "As a result, USSTRATCOM planners will be able to more effectively employ the nation's ICBM force should it be required."

"An outstanding display of teamwork ensured 100-percent mission success for the first west coast launch of the year," said Col. Jack Weinstein, 30th Space Wing commander, who served the spacelift commander. "We constantly focus on flawless execution of our launch, range and expeditionary missions. I am extremely proud of the collaboration between the 30th SW and the 576th FLTS."

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Related Links
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LGM-30 Minuteman III
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Marathon North Korea Nuclear Talks Appear To Secure Breakthrough
Beijing (AFP) Feb 13, 2007
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