SMDC History: Missile defense testing moves to Wake Island

By Sharon Watkins Lang, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Command HistorianSeptember 26, 2016

SMDC History: Missile Defense Testing Moves to Wake Island
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

In the early 1990s, with greater emphasis placed on the development of theater missile defense assets, the research and development community was faced with some new challenges. A tactical ballistic missile target for example could carry a variety of warheads -- conventional, chemical, biological or nuclear. Each would have their own signatures.

Then there were the new ranges involved. From the 1950s, missile defense had been focused upon intercontinental ballistic missiles with a range in excess of 5,500 kilometers. These new weapons could have a range from 1,000 to 5,500 kilometers. While existing ranges could meet some of the requirements, a new facility was needed.

On Sept. 29, 1994, the U.S. Air Force issued a six-month permit to the Department of the Army to use Wake Island. Perhaps best known for its role in World War II, Wake Island was a U.S. Territory with no permanent residents.

The small coral and limestone atoll, which measures only 2.9 square miles, was nevertheless equipped with some of the necessary infrastructure. In addition, at a distance of 1,443 kilometers from Kwajalein Missile Range, Wake Island was an ideal venue.

Two days later, on Oct. 1, the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command, as the executive agency for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, or BMDO, assumed custody of Wake Island.

Using the Starbird facilities constructed in the 1980s, Wake Island would support the Theater Missile Defense Critical Measurements Program and serve as a launch venue for Theater Missile Defense, or TMD test programs, launching target missiles toward the U.S. Army's Kwajalein Missile Range located in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The goal being to provide a realistic test situations for all aspects of the missile defense mission -- acquiring, tracking and intercepting target missiles.

The renamed Wake Island Launch Center would be the launch site for the newly developed Hera target missile. Construction of the new Hera launch facility was completed in November 1996. Under the guidance provided by the BMDO, the command would operate the facility in a caretaker status.

One month prior to the scheduled launch, the 25-person launch team would arrive on island to commence preparations and conduct a variety of flight readiness tests. At the conclusion of the TMD test program, management of Wake Island returned to the Air Force on 1 October 2002.

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