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US Air Force sets record for low-altitude missile intercept

IADS low-altitude intercept
Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force recently achieved a new record downing a BQM-167A aerial target cruising over the Gulf of Mexico with a surface-to-air missile deployed from Santa Rosa Island.

The successful shoot down was the culmination of the 780th Test Squadron’s Vermilion Stallion test program, that allowed air defense system operators in Washington D.C. to practice their procedures in the event of an inbound cruise missile to the nation’s capital.

While the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron controlled the BQM-167 toward its demise, 780th TS personnel, the 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command and 1-204th Air Defense Artillery operators conducted the tactical steps used if an inbound threat was detected in D.C.

When the Sentinel Radars identified an inbound cruise missile threat, the team worked through the real-world tactical “threat levels” to launch an air defense missile and impact the BQM-167, which served as a surrogate cruise missile.

A deployable integrated air defense system fired the missile at its target. A DIADS includes a launch control system that receives target information from radars and sends commands to a ground launcher which can rotate toward targets.

This live fire made history as the lowest altitude surrogate cruise missile ever impacted with the system.

The successful execution enabled the verification, validation, and re-characterization of the nation’s air defense system’s many upgrades.

The test was held up when Tropical Storm Marco and Hurricane Laura threatened the region. More than $20 million worth of equipment had to be moved from Santa Rosa Island and then successfully redeployed two days later to take the shot.

“The Joint Capability Technology Demonstration program supported the execution of $7 million worth of critical testing, procedural development, systems validation and an opportunity to conduct demonstrations and experiments in a real-world environment,” said Col. Joseph Monastra, 1st Air Force Strategic Plans, Programs and Requirements director. “Meeting operational needs in a timely manner is the ultimate goal.