Wednesday, January 12, 2005

General: "Glitch" caused missile defense test failure

A report implies that the ballistic missile defense system builders have a high embarassment threshold. Systems that have to work the first time they're used must not have "glitches."

"In the December 15 test, a target missile, a simulated ICBM with a mock warhead was launched without problem from Kodiak, Alaska. But the interceptor that was to fly into the target's path in outer space, destroying it by direct impact, did not launch from its pad at the Ronald Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean."

"Offering the first public explanation of what went wrong, Obering said the blame lay with an automated pre-launch check of the communications flow between the interceptor and the main flight control computer. Detecting too many missed messages, the system shut down automatically, as designed. In response, the Pentagon will increase the pre-launch tolerance for missed messages. Obering said the tolerance level was set too low; increasing it will not risk a flight guidance failure, he said."

"'We kind of did this to ourselves,' Obering said, by setting the tolerance level so low. 'This has been nothing more than a minor glitch,' he added. 'Statistically, it's a very rare occurrence and most likely would not happen again.'"

"He disputed the assertion by some outside observers that the failure was a significant setback for a program that has been decades in development at the cost of tens of billions of dollars. 'We're disappointed in the fact that we did not get this (test) off, but we were certainly not embarrassed and we're certainly not disheartened in any way, shape or form,' Obering said. 'We are working through what we consider to be the fine-tuning of this system.'"

See also my previous post on this topic.



Comment by Blogger Jim Horning:

More detailed and informative analysis are available from ArmsControlWonk and from DefenseTech.

System complexity is identified as one of the key issues.

2:55 PM  

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