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-247, Sept. 6.
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.
“RTS serves as the supporting range for all Glory Trip missions,” said Col. Juan Santiago, RTS director. “The Reagan Test Site maintains custody of the article under test from launch to impact to ensure a safe test environment for all. RTS is part of the Department of Defense's Major Range and Test Facility Base, which provides vital test and evaluation support to mission partners conducting development and operations testing of critical capabilities for the nation’s defense.
“I am honored to lead and work with such a dedicated group of passionate professionals,” he added. “In addition to executing its test and evaluation mission, the RTS team works around the clock supporting U.S. Space Command’s space-domain awareness mission.”
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-247, RTS provided scoring data from when the vehicle impacts into the Kwajalein Missile Impact Scoring System.
The test results will 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.
Vanessa Kacer, RTS mission manager, said as it has done for decades, RTS captured critical data collection on the Minuteman III missile set as it was in flight, including radar, optical and telemetry data.
“The data that was collected will be analyzed by our team, and will provide the Air Force with information on how the system performed, providing key insight into accuracy and readiness of the operational system,” Kacer said. “The remote location of the sensor suite in the middle of the Pacific Ocean not only provides the ability to collect data in a location where no other data collection assets exist, but it also provides a relatively safe location for testing.”
Kacer added that the Air Force has conducted flight tests with many of these same sensors supporting their Glory Trip missions for more than 50 years. During these tests, RTS has been able to provide a wealth of data for the Air Force to measure against.
“The excitement for a launch builds exponentially as you get within the last several minutes of launch, after the system checks are passed, assets are primed and ready, and the long, and often late night, countdown is behind you,” Kacer said. “You know you have done everything possible to prepare, the last thing to do is hold your breath as you watch the video of the launch before shifting to action to wait for what we see when it eventually breaks our horizon. From that point on, in many cases we actually hope for an unexciting test, which generally means that the system under test as well as the sensors supporting the data collection performed as expected.”