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Missile Defense Agency tests new booster for ground-based interceptor

Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) three stage booster test
A long-range ground-based interceptor launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on September 12, 2021. Photo: US Missile Defense Agency

The US Missile Defense Agency has completed what it says is a successful launch of a Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) flying a mock-up of the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV).

This test was the first flight test of a three-stage booster operating in two-stage mode meaning the third stage was not ignited, allowing earlier release of the kill vehicle providing increased battlespace.

The GMD element of the missile defense system provides combatant commanders the capability to engage and destroy intermediate and long-range ballistic missile threats to protect the US.

As explained by MDA, the new booster capability being introduced is known as a 2-/3-stage selectable GBI. This capability gives the warfighter greater flexibility in executing the defense of the homeland while significantly increasing the battlespace for successful threat engagement. Using a mock-up of an EKV provided a reduction in cost of the test and spared critical defense assets that were not required in this non-intercept test.

Initial indications show the test met requirements, MDA said. Program officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test.

“This was the first flight test of the new selectable stage booster configuration in two-stage mode,” said MDA director Vice Admiral Jon Hill.

“The system worked exactly as it was designed to do, and the results of this test provide evidence of the greatly increased battlespace the selectable booster brings to the warfighter. The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we continue to provide enhanced capabilities for our existing Ground Based Interceptor fleet while we rapidly design and deliver the leap ahead technology of the Next Generation Interceptor.”

The new selectable stage booster is designed to provide the warfighter with more engagement time and space; enabling a greater defense in depth. Future upgrades to sensing and tracking capabilities when coupled with the selectable stage booster will provide the warfighter with a robust ability to assess the threat after initial engagement while retaining the time to engage again if necessary.

“This is our first step toward a robust ‘shoot-assess-shoot’ capability,” added Vice Admiral Hill.