REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Soldiers and civilians play an important role in supporting the Air Force’s latest Glory Trip.
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, during Air Force Global Strike Command’s Glory Trip-236 operational test Oct. 29 and impacted in a pre-established target zone roughly 4,200 miles away, near USASMDC’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, or RTS, on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. RTS is a range and test facility located 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii.
The purpose of the ICBM test launch program was to validate and verify the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system and that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter 21st century threats and reassure America’s allies.
“The Reagan Test Site mission (in this test) is to provide Air Force Global Strike Command with the necessary data for them to perform Minuteman III system performance assessment,” said Col. Eugene M. Poindexter, RTS director. “The RTS team is dedicated to the GT-236 mission, doing everything in their power to ensure that RTS provides exceptional support.
“It is very exciting for RTS to participate in these missions. Every mission is thrilling to participate in and to be part of these high visibility events,” Poindexter added. “RTS is a vital national asset used to support operational and developmental tests of our nation’s offensive and defensive systems. RTS provides a unique suite of instrumentation and an ideal geographic location to meet many of the U.S. testing needs that cannot be accomplished anywhere else in the world.”
Supporting the launch from Huntsville were members of USASMDC assigned to the RTS Operations Center-Huntsville, or ROC-H, assigned to control sensors at the RTS. ROC-H is the command and control facility for missile defense testing and for space operations at RTS despite being more than 6,500 miles from Kwajalein, said Michael Butler, RTS Mission Operations director.
“The RTS mission operations team, comprising government and contractor personnel, spread over thousands of miles and seven time zones did an outstanding job supporting GT-236,” Butler said. “I could not be any more proud to work with such a dedicated and skilled set of professionals. As with all major planning exercises, it’s always a challenge to coordinate and fine tune all the elements into a well-executed event.
“The highlight of the Glory Trip is the launch and the anticipation of what is headed toward Kwajalein,” Butler added. “At that point we know there is no turning back and that all our training and preparation is about to be tested.”
RTS sensors, including high-fidelity metric and signature radars, as well as optical sensors and telemetry, play a role in the research, development, test and evaluation in support of America’s defense and space programs. RTS uses a full spectrum of support, including multiple radar frequencies, telemetry, and multiple high-speed optical and camera systems to capture every measurable data opportunity and provide data and information that is critical to system performance evaluations.
The test results from RTS verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system and provide valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. The ICBM test launch program demonstrates the operational capability of the Minuteman III and ensures the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of national security and the security of U.S. allies and partners.
Kevin Melody, RTS mission operations representative on Kwajalein, said Glory Trip missions are exciting to support on Kwajalein because it is one of the few places one can see a reentry vehicle come back into the atmosphere.
“There are 10 SMDC personnel along with hundreds of other military, civilian and contractor personnel on Kwajalein who support Glory Trip missions," Melody said. "SMDC personnel are responsible for the oversight of all aspects of test execution. During the mission, they perform a variety of functions such as assessing weather conditions, sensor performance, and missile flight safety as well as coordinating data exchange with other ranges and reporting critical test information to the Air Force.
“SMDC personnel will spend several hours at their consoles on the day of the mission,” Melody added. “Everyone involved in these tests has had a substantial amount of training which gives them confidence in themselves and their teammates. So, rather than nervousness, there is a sense of excitement at seeing all of that effort come together.”
For more than 50 years, RTS radars, imaging systems, data collection capabilities and personnel have supported hundreds of missile tests ranging from validation of concepts and designs for ICBMs to anti-satellite systems and ballistic missile defense systems.
RTS personnel provide cradle-to-grave support for every mission, they support requirements definition for the test, environmental impact assessment, range scheduling, range safety and logistical support, said Bryan Wheelock, RTS mission planner and range control officer.
“As a range control officer, it is my privilege to lead a dedicated team of government and contractor personnel providing support to these important Air Force missions,” Wheelock said. “After months of planning and weeks of practice and training, it is such a joy to be in the control room, working side by side with such a professional, efficient team ready to support the mission on launch night.”