REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – A U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command team played an important behind-the-scenes role in supporting the Air Force’s Glory Trip-237, Feb. 24.
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, during Air Force Global Strike Command’s operational test and impacted in a pre-established target zone roughly 4,200 miles away near USASMDC’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site 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 to ensure the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter 21st century threats and reassure America’s allies.
“I am extremely excited about the opportunity for the Reagan Test Site along with our talented personnel to play a part in the Air Force Global Strike Command’s Glory Trip missions,” said Col. Eugene M. Poindexter, RTS director. “The RTS team is made up of the highest engineering professionals in the Department of Defense who possess uniquely knowledgeable skills unlike any organization in the world. The RTS team’s involvement lends to the technical expertise and knowledge our personnel provide to this very important mission and I'm proud to be a part of such a great team of professionals.
“I’m extremely excited about the RTS team’s involvement with this mission which contributes heavily to the implementation of the national defense strategy of our nation,” Poindexter added. “The RTS team continues to stand ready to support our nation’s warfighters to provide state-of-art technology and expertise daily.”
Supporting the launch from Huntsville were members of USASMDC assigned to the RTS Operations Center-Huntsville, which controls 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.
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 provides range instrumentation, ground range safety, meteorological support and data analysis and 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 critical to system performance evaluations.
RTS is one of the major range and test facility bases supporting Glory Trip missions. They collect radar, optical and telemetry data in the terminal phase of flight on behalf of the Air Force customer and track vehicles down range using radars, telemetry and optics instrumentation. For GT-237, RTS will provide scoring data from when the vehicle impacts into the Kwajalein Missile Impact Scoring System.
The test results verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system and provide valuable data. 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.
Bryan Wheelock, RTS Mission Operations range control officer, said the most important task they do for the Air Force is collect data in the terminal phase of flight to help evaluate the performance of their system.
“RTS has a robust instrumentation suite of radar, optical, and telemetry sensors,” Wheelock said. “RTS’s skilled, professional teams of government civilian, military and contractor personnel have been supporting this mission successfully for more than 50 years.
“Scheduling for the Glory Trip missions starts as early as three years out with planning for the missions beginning about a year out,” Wheelock added. We are routinely planning for multiple missions simultaneously. Mission night is the most exciting part of the Glory Trip missions. Working the control room watching everything come together after all the long preparation. Being part of the team executing the mission, while having a front row seat to all the action – there is no place I’d rather be.”
A few weeks out and up to mission day, everyone supporting the Glory Trip mission participates in numerous practice fly-downs, where not only nominal fly-downs occur but surprise off-nominals occur. This helps ensure operators, and the entire mission execution team, plan for success and are prepared for any potential anomalies on mission day.
Donna Annette Simpson, mission planner and assistant range control officer at ROC-H for the mission, said they begin planning and working with the program a year out with funding estimates to support the GT missions for the upcoming year.
“The real work begins at six months out from mission date, which is when we have the first technical interchange meeting where detailed information is presented by the program on the specifics of the mission,” Simpson said. “At about 90 days out from the mission, RTS supports a flight test planning meeting where each of the mission participants present their specific mission support plan to the program. The mission is supported and data deliverables can be delivered up to 45 days after the mission.
“I would say the most exciting part is watching the vehicle reenter the atmosphere near Kwaj and see the (reentry vehicle) glow seamlessly through the sky and disappear into its impact location,” Simpson added. “I was able to see three (reentry vehicles) come in to the impact area while I worked on Kwaj. That was an amazing sight, and I am thankful I got to experience it.”