Letter: STSS Testing Still Part of Missile Defense Plan

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Several opinions stated in your March 8 editorial [“The STSS Demo Follies,” page 18] indicate a lack of understanding of aspects of the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS), notably that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency has eliminated “dedicated” tests of the STSS in our Integrated Master Test Plan (IMTP). The only significant change reflected in the IMTP is that planning of future missile defense tests doesn’t include “dedicated” tests of any single element in any test event. The cost and resources associated with the planning and execution of these test events demand that we learn as much as possible from each and every test, so instead of focusing on only a few “dedicated” tests, we now include planning for STSS to participate in every test. Also, the plan has now been expanded to include integrated flight tests using STSS data to cue an interceptor. Actually, STSS was cued and prepared to participate in the ground-based midcourse test in January and the recent Airborne Laser Test Bed experiment. Unfortunately, the satellites were out of position for both events due to delays in other range assets, resulting in delayed target missile launches.

Your editorial also raised a concern regarding the age of the STSS technology. While the technologies involved are from the 1990s, the capabilities they provide have never been accomplished on-orbit. Successful acquisition and post-boost phase (birth-to-death) tracking by a space-based asset has yet to be demonstrated, but STSS now provides the nation with a unique opportunity to significantly expand the battlespace by providing data of sufficient quality to launch an interceptor much sooner than any current capability.

Finally, while early on-orbit checkout has taken longer than expected due to multiple software issues, these issues were rigorously investigated and resolved. We continue to activate on-board systems and to examine the performance of both satellites in different environments.

 

Rick Lehner

Director, Public Affairs

U.S.
Missile Defense Agency

Washington