FORT WINGATE, New Mexico – The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command target team leads the way for missile defense.
The USASMDC Technical Center’s Test Team launched two Black Dagger targets in support of missile defense from Fort Wingate, New Mexico, during March. The first launch supporting Integrated Fires Mission Command as part of Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space launched, March 12, and the second test supporting the Missile Defense Agency rocketed skyward, March 29.
“Both launches were extremely successful and met all target mission objectives,” said Cain Crouch, chief of SMDC Tech Center’s Targets Division. “This was most definitely a team effort to fly both of these missions only a couple of weeks apart. We had some team members spend up to six straight weeks in the field, and most dealt with multiple deployments.”
The second test supporting MDA’s Flight Test Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Weapon System-21 demonstrated the integration of an intercept flight test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon system, which fired two Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhanced interceptors against a Black Dagger.
“I’m extremely proud of the entire team,” Crouch said. “We battled the elements: snow, ice, single digit temperatures on launch day, and several days of 40-50 mph winds. Add the elements on top of the technical challenges associated with launching missiles, and it creates a very complex problem.
“We also had several team members perform new roles, and all exceeded expectations,” he added. “It was a very long, difficult few weeks for the team, but it was very rewarding at the end of it all. Our team members continually just put their heads down and got things done, no matter the situation. I wouldn't want to do this with anyone else.”
SMDC’s low-cost Black Dagger targets were used during the tests. The low-cost target consists of a Mark 70 Terrier first stage and a M124 second stage. Black Dagger is designed to fly a short-range ballistic missile flight path and built as a ballistic missile target capable of threat-matching for use in advanced missile defense systems testing.
The Black Dagger, previously known as Boosted Zombie, target program started in 2013 as a Central Test and Evaluation Investment Program project. SMDC Test Execution Support Division developed the Black Dagger target, along with Sabre Zombie and Pathfinder Zombie targets as a suite of low-cost targets using government-owned rocket components that have reached the end of their useful life. Rather than demilitarizing the rocket components, TESD re-purposes the hardware, thereby, saving taxpayer money.
“Black Dagger targets are threat representative SRBM targets designed to take old hardware set to be destroyed, and reuse it as target hardware and both of these targets performed exceptionally well,” said Meeda S. Bosse, launch test director with the Targets Division. “Black Dagger targets are part of our Zombie targets family. All Zombie targets take old hardware set to be demilitarized, and reuse this hardware as targets. This allows us to provide targets at a much lower cost than if we had to start with all new hardware.
“Both targets were very successful,” she added. “These targets flew two different trajectories, and both performed exceptionally well. Our first look show that everything on the target performed nominally for both missions.”
With both launches happening within a month of each other, Bosse mentioned that despite all the difficulties, the team performed with professionalism and enthusiasm.
“Running back-to-back missions was difficult and required a lot of coordination from the team,” Bosse said. “Everyone put in extra effort to pull off this schedule. I couldn’t be more thankful to work with the team we have.”
Anne Wolf, assistant pad chief, who ran the countdown and operates the launcher during the missions, said over the past two missions she learned more about system integration and how all the disciplines come together, and what it takes to navigate through some tricky scenarios that come during tests.
“I learned more about what sort of coordination and communication is required between the program, the target, and the range, which is no easy task,” Wolf said. “On a broader note, I got to experience more of what it is to work in an environment where everyone truly works as a team. Everyone is all-hands-on-deck when it comes to a launch.”
She also said that over the last several missions, the team has gotten to know the Fort Wingate team pretty well, and while there everyone feels like part of the same team.
“The most exciting part of the launch is the launch itself,” Wolf said. “It truly is an amazing experience to witness our military’s capabilities up close. You can feel the excitement, and some nervousness, as we march down the count from 10-seconds to liftoff. This is what all the hard work of many people is leading up to. We also have the ability to stream in video feed of the missile as it’s intercepted, which is incredible to see.
“This work is pretty rewarding, because we get to see firsthand the incredible work of our co-workers and contractors contributing to the greater good of our nation,” she added.