— The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is in the midst of a three-phase review, slated for completion by June, aimed at instilling more rigor and operational realism throughout its testing programs, the MDA’s director told lawmakers Feb. 25.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly told the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee that the MDA, along with the test agencies of the military services, so far has determined the types of data it needs to obtain from missile defense testing. The next steps will be devising a test program to produce that data along with identifying the resources that will be required.

The Pentagon’s top weapons tester, meanwhile, said the MDA made good progress with its flight test programs in 2008, with the exception of its targets program, which continued to experience failures last year.

Systems designed to intercept short- and medium-range missiles performed well in testing and have proven to be more mature than long-range systems, said Charles McQueary, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation. The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system demonstrated the ability to detect, track and engage simple short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats, and operational control of the system was transferred to the U.S. Navy last year. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system demonstrated the capability to detect, track and engage short-range, nonseparating targets, and the MDA’s global command and control system demonstrated the ability to provide situational awareness to troops around the world and control forward-based radars.

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, the main territorial shield, made progress last year in terms of increased operational realism in its tests, scoring a hit in a December test that integrated data from more sensors than ever before. But McQueary said the MDA is still using what he described as unaccredited models and simulations for GMD testing, and that all intercept tests have occurred under nearly identical conditions representing only a small part of the long- range threat.

“Although the MDA has plans to test over a wider range of intercept conditions and threat battlespace, until this is accomplished, there will be insufficient data to accredit the models and simulations needed to assess GMD operational effectiveness,” McQueary said in his written testimony.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D- Calif.), who chairs the strategic forces subcommittee, noted during the hearing that GMD’s unproven track record, coupled with the technical difficulties that halted testing of the system for more than a year prior to the most recent demonstration, are cause to think twice about U.S. plans to expand the system by placing 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic.

“This situation needs to improve,” Tauscher said. “Additionally, I believe that we should not move forward with the proposed expansion of the GMD system in until we have a greater degree of confidence in the system’s capabilities.”

Missile defense testing has been an issue ever since the U.S. Missile Defense Act of 1999 mandated deployment of a system to protect the United States from limited attacks as soon as technologically feasible. When O’Reilly took the reins at the MDA in November, clarifying and revising the test program was a top goal. He coordinated with McQueary and the Pentagon’s combatant commanders, and in December began a three-phased review that will lead to a new Integrated Master Test Plan.

“Evaluating the [ballistic missile defense system] is likely one of the most challenging endeavors ever attempted by the Department of Defense,” O’Reilly said. “Ideally, comprehensive and rigorous testing is enabled by a stable configuration of the system being tested; a clearly defined threat; a consistent and mature operational doctrine; sufficient resources to repeat tests under the most stressing conditions; and a well defined set of criteria for acceptable performance. Unfortunately, none of these situations apply” to the ballistic missile defense system, he said.

The goal of the review is to create new set of test objectives that go beyond testing newly delivered elements of the system and emphasize demonstrating the specific functions needed for missile defense operations, O’Reilly said. One major change will be to drop the practice of laying out test objectives over two- year periods in favor of a more open-ended structure where schedules are driven by results.

During the first phase of the review, now completed, the MDA split the body of data needed to test and verify missile defense systems into two categories: one for elements that can be tested and evaluated with models and simulations, and one for elements that must be evaluated through operationally realistic flight tests.

For GMD, the agency identified nine areas that could be tested with models and simulations, and six that require flight testing. System performance aspects that require flight tests include the interceptor’s ability to correct for booster burnout guidance errors and the ability to discriminate re-entry vehicles from other objects using external sensors, according to O’Reilly’s written testimony. Similar sets of requirements were established for each of MDA’s interceptor systems.

In the second phase of the review, the MDA by the end of March will develop testing scenarios to meet these requirements through a series of flight and ground tests. The last phase will determine the funding and infrastructure needed to implement the test campaigns. Two areas of focus cited in O’Reilly’s testimony are better modeling and simulation and a more diverse set of short- and medium- range targets.

McQueary supported the review process the MDA has begun, saying it directly addresses concerns he brought to the subcommittee’s attention last year.

“This is a rigorous and promising approach, and I fully support it,” he said in his written testimony.