By Dave Ahearn

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system successfully killed a target missile Friday, a brilliant and crucial win that came just as President-elect Obama and a Democratic-led Congress are about to consider the next round of funding for the GMD and other ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs.

That victory for the GMD system is especially vital for another program, where the United States plans to install a European Missile Defense (EMD) shield to protect Europe and the United States against enemy missiles launched by Middle Eastern rogue nations, such as Iran.

The EMD interceptor would be a variant (two stages instead of three) of the GMD interceptor.

But some Democrats have voiced skepticism about both the GMD and EMD systems, saying the GMD needs more testing, and the EMD interceptor should be tested before it is installed in ground silos in Poland. That would add two years to installation of the EMD, even though Iran has no limits slowing its production of more nuclear materials and longer-range missiles.

The successful test of the GMD system bolsters missile defense advocates in Congress: they can argue that the GMD again has successfully taken out a target missile, so that the GMD is being thoroughly tested. And they can argue as well that since the GMD interceptors work well, there is less need to test the EMD variant before it is deployed.

Both the GMD and EMD programs are led by Boeing [BA].

GMD flight test results will help to further refine the performance of numerous missile shield elements able to provide a defense against the type of long-range ballistic missile that could be used to attack the United States with a weapon of mass destruction.

In the winning GMD test Friday, a threat-representative target missile was launched from Kodiak, Alaska, at 3:04 p.m. ET.

That target missile was similar to the sort of missile that might be launched by North Korea, which is developing a Taepo Dong-2 ICBM that could strike targets in the United States. Further, North Korea already has built nuclear weapons, and tested one underground. Despite years of six-party peace talks, Pyongyang hasn’t turned over even one nuclear weapon to inspectors.

The test Friday involved a long-range ballistic target missile that was tracked by several land- and sea-based radars, which sent targeting information to the interceptor missile. At 3:23 p.m., the GMD interceptor was launched from the Ronald W. Reagan Missile Defense Site, located at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. The interceptor’s exoatmospheric [outside the atmosphere] kill vehicle was carried into the target’s predicted trajectory in space, maneuvered to the target, performed discrimination, and intercepted the threat warhead.

This was the first time an operational crew located at the alternate fire control center at Fort Greely, Alaska, remotely launched the interceptor from Vandenberg. In previous interceptor launches from Vandenberg, military crews at the fire control center at Schriever AFB, Colo., remotely launched the interceptor.

The target was successfully tracked by a transportable AN/TPY-2 radar located in Juneau, Alaska, a Navy Aegis BMD ship with SPY-1 radar, the Upgraded Early Warning Radar at Beale AFB, Calif., and the Sea-Based X-band radar. Each sensor sent information to the fire control system, which integrated the data together to provide the most accurate target trajectory for the interceptor.

That interceptor’s exoatmospheric kill vehicle is the component that collides directly with a target warhead in space to perform a hit-to-kill intercept using only the force of the collision to totally destroy the target warhead.

Initial indications are that all components performed as designed.

Program officials will evaluate system performance based on telemetry and other data obtained during the test.

Overall, this successful GMD test is just one of many during development of the total, multilayered U.S. missile defense shield.

This was the 37th successful hit-to-kill intercept of 47 attempts since 2001 for the total BMD system. Operational GMD interceptors currently are deployed at Fort Greely and Vandenberg, protecting the United States, its friends and allies against ballistic missile attack.