After scoring hits in the last two flight tests of the U.S. missile shield, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA)

now is ready to include decoys with the target to be used for the next intercept test, according to the agency’s top official.

The next test will likely take place

between February and May, depending on how long it takes MDA to analyze the results of the demonstration that took place

Sept. 28, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, MDA director.

MDA has achieved seven successful intercepts in 11 attempts with the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System (GMD), according to Rick Lehner, an MDA spokesman.

The GMD system is built by a team led by Boeing Missile Defense Systems of Arlington, Va. The interceptor is built by Orbital Sciences Corp., of Dulles, Va.

The agency

now has had two consecutive intercepts with the operational configuration of the interceptor rocket, Lehner said. Overall, the agency is now 30 for 38 in intercept tests involving its various hit-to-kill interceptor systems, Obering said during an Oct. 2 briefing for reporters at the Pentagon.

In the most recent demonstration, an interceptor rocket fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California destroyed a target that was launched from Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska, Obering said. Vandenberg currently hosts three interceptors that could be used against an operational threat, he said.

Intercept tests conducted prior to last September featured interceptors that were launched from the Kwajalein Atoll.

The target missile’s trajectory in the most recent test was intended to replicate a shot at the United States from North Korea that could be intercepted by missiles fired from the Defense Department’s

missile field at Fort Greely, Alaska, which hosts 20 interceptors today, Obering said. This test was essentially a repeat of the scenario planned for a demonstration in May 2007. That demonstration was canceled after the target missile failed to take off.

Boeing officials pointed to the most recent test in a Sept. 28 news release as evidence that the GMD system has made significant progress.

“With another intercept under our belts, we have even greater confidence that the GMD system, if called upon in a real-world scenario, will defend the nation against a limited ballistic missile attack,” said Scott Fancher, Boeing vice president and program director for GMD, in the news release.

The flight test involved about 1,000 government and contractor personnel working with a variety of sensors based around the world and in space, as well as command and control facilities and a communications network featuring more than 32,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable, according to Norm Tew, Boeing director of weapon systems integration for GMD.

The test cost about $85 million, which covered the cost of the interceptor and target, sensor operation, range fees, and pre- and post- test analysis, Lehner said.

Key focus areas from this test included examining the performance of the Upgraded Early Warning Radar at Beale Air Force Base in California, which was used as the primary sensor to track the incoming target missile, with location updates sent directly to the interceptor, according to an MDA news released dated Sept. 28. The test

also was intended to provide data on the performance of the interceptor’s rocket motors and kill vehicle, both of which performed well, according to the news release.

The previous successful flight demonstration, which took place in September 2007 and also featured an interceptor fired from Vandenberg, accomplished

the destruction of the target missile, but did not have an intercept as its primary goal, Obering said. That test was focused on examining the capability of the sensors in the kill vehicle, and led to some modifications that have improved its performance to the point where the agency is comfortable adding decoys to the upcoming test next year, he said.

The next flight test will feature the first use of the Sea Based X-band Radar sensor as part of the interceptor’s fire control loop, Lehner said. That sensor, which is intended to play a key role in helping discriminate between an incoming missile and decoys, has played an observation role in the past two flight tests in order for MDA and Boeing officials to characterize its performance, but did not provide information that was used for the intercepts, he said.

MDA’s experience with the Sea Based X-band Radar thus far has given the agency confidence that it could use it operationally in response to an


, Obering said.

The target missile in the most recent test

also was tracked by the radar sensor aboard a

U.S. Navy Aegis guided missile cruiser

that was also not part of the fire control loop, Lehner said. The Aegis radar could be included in the fire control loop in the next test, or the one that follows, depending on what the agency wants to explore after fully analyzing the results from the Sept. 28 test, he said.

While MDA is gearing up to begin testing against incoming missiles equipped with decoys, Obering stressed that the agency

still is focused on the threat of launches from Iran and North Korea, as well as a missile that might fall into the hands of a terrorist organization, rather than Russia.

Russian officials have expressed concern that the GMD system is intended to negate their nuclear capability, particularly in light of the Pentagon’s efforts to deploy a missile defense radar sensor in the Czech Republic and an interceptor field in Poland.

Russia has missiles that are equipped with sophisticated decoys, but also has

more than 100 missiles, and MDA has no plans for an intercept test that would knock down a salvo of incoming targets, Obering said. MDA is more concerned about facing an incoming salvo of missiles in theater missile defense scenarios, he said.


still is negotiating with Russia

over the possible use of a radar sensor in Azerbaijan, and Obering noted that he had Russian

officials sit next to him to observe the Sept. 28 intercept test. Negotiations

also are continuing with the Polish and Czech governments over the sites in their countries, Obering said. While other countries could host those sites, they would not offer optimal conditions to address the threat of missiles from places like Iran, he said.