By Jason B. Cutshaw, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Public AffairsJune 21, 2018
(Editor's note: This is the second of a three-part series on the Black Dagger/Boosted Zombie Target ballistic missile launch.)
FORT BLISS, Texas -- A Black Dagger and a Boosted Zombie Target both mean the same thing when launched -- Success.
Members of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center's Test Execution Support Division, or TESD, test-fired its first Black Dagger/Boosted Zombie Target, or BZT. It was fired from McGregor Range at Fort Bliss, Texas, and landed in White Sands Missile Range, or WSMR, New Mexico, during a risk reduction flight June 7.
The Black Dagger/BZT is a realistic threat ballistic missile target for use in future testing of advanced missile defense systems and consists of Pathfinder Zombie, a low-cost guided target, with the addition of a Mark 70 Terrier Missile booster. After launch using the Terrier booster, the Zombie target second stage separated, coasted for a short while, and then ignited.
"I don't think any of us were nervous," said Jeff A. Compton, TESD senior safety and quality engineer for Zombie targets and Black Dagger/BZT launch director. "Personally, my greatest concern was for the staging event. That one event has the highest risk due to the multiple elements that have to function correctly and the multitude of things that can go wrong before it happens. Also, we had already flown the second stage of the Zombie previously, so that risk was lower. I was in the operations van for launch and during those 17 seconds between vehicle separation, coast and ignition, we collectively held our breath. Seeing the Zombie ignite was a great feeling."
Compton talked about some of the hurdles the team faced prior to the launch and what they learned.
"We had minor issues with the telemetry transmitter, launch site set-up, vehicle transportation and shipping equipment to the range, just to name a few," Compton said. "There were issues every day, but the entire team worked together and worked intelligently to correct the problem and, in some cases, develop and execute a secondary or tertiary plan.
"A successful launch team has to be flexible and this team is very flexible," he added. "It's important to learn from the past. This was our fourth launch of a Zombie target and we are still learning from previous launches."
He explained what they were looking for to make the launch successful and how excited they were when it was a successful. He said the target needed to fly an expected trajectory, within tolerances, and have the Flight Termination System, or FTS, execute upon command at the end of flight to be successful.
"When the second stage ignited, I knew we were past the most risky part," Compton said. "It immediately began a pull-up maneuver and as I saw the plume, I knew it was executing that move and was flying like it should. Preliminary indications are that the vehicle performed exactly as expected.
"Personally, I was very excited for this vehicle to fly," he added. "Traditionally, first-time launch vehicles have a high rate of failure. The fact that this team launched a two-stage vehicle for the first time successfully is a significant feat."
He then described the reaction in the control building during the launch.
"There was noticeable excitement in the ops van as the countdown proceeded," Compton said. "At liftoff, everyone turned their attention to the vehicle displays showing flyout. When the second stage ignited, cheering broke out. We watched the WSMR range display showing altitude versus range and confirmed the FTS event as well as nominal performance. It really felt good.
"Black Dagger is our workhorse for the immediate future," he added. "We have several launches planned for the next two years. This was a critical step for us and this Risk Reduction Flight seems to have been a shining success."
The launch supported the Program Executive Office Missiles and Space's Lower Tier Program Office, or LTPO. WSMR was chosen as the location for the test due to its large controlled airspace, and the rocket's expected use in future testing at the range. As a fully instrumented test range, the rocket was tracked throughout its flight, ensuring the mission could be conducted safely and necessary data collected for the program to move forward.
"The Launch was 100 percent successful and was very well received by LTPO, which will ask for more targets in the future," said Michael T. "Todd" Harris, WSMR Missile and Space Branch test conductor. "For the range it means more launches from both WSMR and Fort Wingate, New Mexico. It fills a niche market to provide a medium-range target at a very affordable price."
Harris said during the launch he and his team perform all of the set up and groundwork as well as provide all necessary documentation, safety requirements, recovery, mission real time support, flight safety coordination, missile transportation, heavy equipment, latrines, launch site preparation and other range necessities.
"Basically we provide everything except the launcher and missile and launch personnel," Harris said. "We actually launch and support this mission with a minimal number of people and equipment. The different groups on the range that work together to bring about the final mission is definitely a group effort such as, communication equipment, optics support, logistical support, contractor maintenance, range control.
"There is a lot of coordination that goes on behind the scenes that people don't realize is happening," he added. "You can't just launch a missile without a lot of groundwork. The 'range' is a lot more than just the landlord. We provide the experts in telemetry, flight safety, range control, communication, project management, safety and launch team personnel. We are an integral part of the success or failure of a launch as we work closely with SMDC and Orbital ATK to provide a good environment and the experts necessary to launch such a large target.
Harris talked about the importance of McGregor Range and how it supports the defense of America.
"It is always important to have a safe and successful mission," Harris said. "With a successful launch they will be more helpful for future missions. It is important and adds face value for the flight to perform the way we said it would.
"With the world situations today it is important for missile defense to test their interceptors," he added. "This type of test verifies that the taxpayer is getting their money worth when we purchase new interceptors."