REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – A U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command team helps the Army put a dagger in the heart of missile defense.
USASMDC Technical Center’s Targets Division launched a custom-built Black Dagger target from Fort Wingate, New Mexico, into White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Aug. 20 during an Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, limited user test, or LUT.
The Black Dagger is a two-stage, short-range ballistic missile that is created by mating a Pathfinder Zombie target missile, another USASMDC custom-built target missile, on top of a Terrier MK70 first stage booster. The Black Dagger target provides a longer range target with increased kinematics to represent additional SRBM threats over what the Pathfinder Zombie could do itself.
Zombie targets utilize excess Army motors that are near the end of their operational life, but can be repurposed as cost-effective targets for flight testing developmental or operational missile defense systems. To reduce development time and cost, Zombie targets use existing state-of-the-art, proven flight-qualified components along with the repurposed components.
Kevin Creekmore, director of the Test Directorate, said this target was in support of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense IBCS LUT program, which is a high priority program within the Army and Department of Defense and provides additional missile defense capability to the warfighter. He said the point of a LUT is to see how the technology performs in realistic field conditions against realistic threats such as Zombie targets with real troops from a real combat unit operating it.
“The target launch was extremely successful,” Creekmore said. “This was the first intercept of the Black Dagger target and proves its viability as a threat representative target ballistic missile allowing for realistic testing and evaluation of missile defense systems. The Black Dagger increased battlespace by flying longer range at higher velocity profiles to further stress the missile defense systems.
“This was a great team effort under a high-stress environment,” he added. “Additional safety procedures were employed and followed by all team members to ensure health and welfare without affecting integration and launch activities.”
IBCS is designed to serve as the brains of the Army’s future Integrated Air and Missile Defense System. It will also be the command and control system for the Army’s future Indirect Fires Protection Capability that will defend against rockets, artillery and mortars as well as cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft, said Jeff A. Compton, launch director and mission assurance lead in USASMDC Tech Center System Engineering Directorate.
“The target performance was almost perfect,” Compton said. “This was one of the best, most accurate flights I’ve been part of in my 25 years of missile flight tests. The highest point of every launch for me is hearing the roar of ignition and seeing the vehicle fly on trajectory up through the clouds. That is one of the ironies of working on targets, you can do everything perfect on your side but if the interceptor fails, it’s not a successful mission.
“When we heard the intercept event called out, the entire operations van erupted in celebration,” Compton added. “We knew the mission was successful. That is always a great feeling. This team is the most hard-working, diligent, professional teams I've ever been associated with. I'm really proud and consider myself blessed to work with each of them.”
During the test, Black Dagger was launched toward Army air and missile defenders while multiple, disparate radars sent data to the IBCS as they tracked the target. Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment demonstrated the system's capability by intercepting Black Dagger with a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile.
Ricky Judy, launch pad chief and Targets Division space systems analyst, said the Fort Wingate and White Sands Missile Range teams worked well together.
“WSMR Range Ops provided outstanding support throughout the mission,” Judy said. “All entities involved with this event worked extremely well with each other to meet the requirements for a successful exercise. Camaraderie, professionalism and an attention to detail were the focus of this team to execute a critical test exercise of this kind.”
Judy said one of the highlights of this test was that the team was able to train new personnel and allow interns to see what it takes to conduct testing of this magnitude. He also said the test was important for what it was able to demonstrate.
“The outcome of this test, which was critical for the fielding of the IBCS, proved out the experience of our Soldiers who destroyed the targets, and highlights the ability and capability of SMDC to support the warfighter,” Judy said. “When it comes to executing the Zombie Mission this team of government and contractor personnel are second to none. We are supported by our leadership, which gives us the opportunity to conduct these important exercises and missions. It is a win-win for the command and the Army.”