Chronology of hit-to-kill missile tests

16 Apr 1997
George Lewis, MIT

In looking at the Kaminski chart of hit-to-kill teststhere appear to be two errors:
  1. The order of the ERIS tests is reversed. The first ERIS test was a hit, while the second was the miss.
  2. Kaminski's chart shows four ERINT tests, the first two misses, and the last two hits. As far as I can determine there were only three ERINT tests against missile targets, of which the first was a miss, and the second and third were hits. Certainly this is what all the reporting at the time said.

The tests on the Kaminski chart are indicated by a "***" at the beginning of the entry:

Homing Overlay Tests

Homing Overlay used a large, infrared homing interceptor, which unfurled a fifteen foot diameter sets of spokes just prior to intercept. There was controversy in 1993/94 over the revelation of a deception program in which a small amount of explosive placed on the interceptor would be used to blow up the interceptor following a near miss in order to deceive the Soviets into believing a hit had been scored. Neither of the first two intercept attempts came close enough to the target to employ the deception scheme, and it was discontinued after the second flight. The target was also heated (to about 100 degrees F) prior to launch to enhance its IR signal.

December 1982: First flight aborted

***February 7, 1983: First intercept attempt misses by large distance. Miss attributed to anomalies in the sensor cooling system that prevented homing.

***May 28, 1983: Second intercept attempt misses by a large distance. The interceptor began homing, but missed due to a failure in the guidance electronics.

***December 1983: Third intercept attempt misses. A software error in the on-board computer prevented the conversion of optical homing data into steering commands.

***June 10, 1984: Fourth intercept attempt hits target. The closing speed was said to be greater than 20,000 feet per second (6.1 km/sec). The target was reportedly acquired at a range of "hundreds of miles"

ERIS Tests:

ERIS (Exo-atmospheric Reentry Vehicle Interceptor System) Lockheed was the prime contractor for this $500 million program, which was part of SDIO's Ground-Based Interceptor Program. The ERIS program built on technology developed as part of Homing Overlay.

***January 28, 1991: First intercept test. The ERIS kill vehicle reportedly hit and destroyed a mock RV target. The dummy warhead was accompanied by 2.2 meter balloon "decoys," tethered to the warhead about 180 meters apart, and the ERIS was told to home on the center one of the three objects. About one second before impact, the kill vehicle deployed an inflatable octagonal kill enhancement device. The intercept occurred at an altitude of 145 nautical miles (270 km) and at a closing speed of greater than 30,000 mph (13.4 km/sec).

May 11, 1991: Second intercept test aborted. About one minute before the ERIS was scheduled to be launched the launch was called off because of a "telemetry anomaly" with the target, which had already been launched. This failure apparently led the planned series of three intercept attempts to be reduced to only two.

***March 13, 1992: Second intercept attempt. The ERIS failed to hit the target, reportedly missing by "several meters." This time the target was accompanied by a single balloon "decoy." The decoy and target were separated by about 20 meters and the kill vehicle flew between them. Discrimination was accomplished using a one-color IR sensor, using data from the first test (and two-color IR data was collected for use in the future) with the ERIS being programmed to intercept the cooler target. The miss was apparently a result of two factors: a greater than anticipated separation between the decoy and target and a late detection (by about 0.2 second) of the target relative to the decoy, which, together with a pre-programmed one- second data collection period, left the kill vehicle with insufficient time to maneuver to an intercept. The intercept attempt reportedly took place at an altitude of 180 miles (290 km) and at a closing speed of 25,000 mph (11.2 km/sec).

FLAGE Testing:

FLAGE (flexible lightweight agile guided experiment) - formerly known as SR-HIT (small radar-homing intercept technology) -- was the predecessor of the current Patriot PAC-3 ERINT interceptor. FLAGE was a small (9 inches in diameter) highly-maneuverable, millimeter-wave radar-guided interceptor intended for relatively short-range intercepts well within the atmosphere. The missile spins during flight and its center of gravity and center of pressure are reportedly very close together, making it inherently unstable. 216 small solid rocket motors mounted in the missile body forward of its center of gravity were used to achieve very high maneuverablity (reportedly about 100 Gs).

January 20, 1984. First flight test. An unguided ballistic trajectory flight to test missile performance and stability. Reportedly a success. First of a planned series of nine flight tests.

March 15, 1984. Second flight test. Non-homing test in which the missile was to make a series of six pre-programmed maneuvers. Missile became unstable during second maneuver, and its radome and fins were torn off. Prior to the third test, ballast was added to improve the missile's aerodynamic static margin.

November 29, 1984. Third flight test. Non-homing test. The missile reportedly successfully executed a series of pre- planned maneuvers.

Date?? Fourth flight test. Test was to be against a stationary target suspended from a balloon.

April 20, 1986. Fifth flight test. Target was a 44 inch diameter aluminum sphere held in place at 12,000 feet (3.7 km) altitude by a balloon. Test was a success, with missile passing through the target.

***June 27, 1986. Sixth flight test. First intercept attempt against a simulated missile target, and the interceptor hit the target. The intercept took place 7 seconds after the interceptor launch at an altitude of about 12,000 feet (3.7 km). There was no up-link to interceptor after its launch. At intercept, FLAGE speed was 3,200 ft/sec (0.98 km/sec) and the target speed was 3,800 ft/sec (1.16 km/sec). The target was launched from an airplane and reportedly had an RCS of about 1 square meter. At the time of test, it was described as the sixth test in a series of nine.

***May 21, 1987. Seventh flight test, second intercept attempt. The FLAGE successfully intercepted a Lance ballistic missile (said to simulate a Soviet SS-21 missile). The Lance reportedly had a much smaller radar cross section than the previous targets. The intercept took place seven seconds after the FLAGE launch, at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3.7 km). At intercept, FLAGE speed was 3,200 ft/sec (0.98 km/sec) and the target speed was less than 3,000 ft/sec (0.91 km/sec). The FLAGE radar reportedly acquired the target 2 seconds before the intercept and 60 of the 216 small solid rocket motors were fired during the flight.

Following the seventh flight test, it was reported that a second flight against a Lance missiles would be attempted in July 1987, and that a third test might be conducted after the data from the first two tests against a Lance were analyzed. However, I have not found anything indicating that either test occurred.

ERINT Testing.

The ERINT (extended range interceptor) is similar to the FLAGE. It uses 180 small solid rocket thrusters to make rapid maneuvers.

June 26, 1992. First flight test. Flight test without seeker, intended to test missile aerodynamics. Missile reportedly successfully flew a 34.3 second pre-programmed flight, including 5 G in-plane maneuvers.

Late August, 1992. Second flight test. Reportedly successful aerodynamic flight, without seeker.

***June 8, 1993. Third flight test, first intercept attempt. The ERINT reportedly missed a Lance missile target by a very small distance. The miss was subsequently attributed to unexpected vibrations due to the solid rocket motor thrusters.

***November 30, 1993. Fourth flight test, second intercept attempt. The ERINT hit a Storm reentry vehicle (3.3 m long, 1 m base diameter) filled with 38 water-filled canisters intended to simulate chemical weapons submunitions, and reportedly destroyed all of them. The ERINT was said to weight 710 lbs at takeoff and 350 at the intercept.

***February 15, 1994. Fifth flight test, third intercept attempt. ERINT hit a Storm warhead filled with water, simulating a bulk chemical warhead, destroying it.

June 2, 1994. Sixth flight test. ERINT successfully intercepted a simulated aircraft target.

LEAP Testing

June 18, 1991. First hover test of LEAP (Hughes version). Seven second flight, altitude about 10 feet, while tracking a target outside of the test hanger.

January 31, 1991. Successful 17 second hover flight of Rockwell-Boeing LEAP.


Original plans called for a series of 8 LEAP flight tests, with closing speeds ultimately reaching 10 km/second.

February 18, 1992. LEAP 1 test. Used Rockwell Advanced Hover Interceptor Technology (AHIT) kill vehicle. Described as a success. There was a target, but hitting it was not a test objective (officials claimed that actually hitting target was only an "extra credit" objective). One objective of the test was to have the interceptor pass within 400 meters of the target - actual closest approach was 418 meters.

***June 19, 1992. LEAP 2 test. White Sands LEAP test involving Hughes version failed to hit target. The LEAP was supposed to receive target position and speed data, but did not and used default values, resulting in miss. The LEAP was able to track the target.

***LEAP 3 test. Originally scheduled for Sept. 1992, using

Rockwell LEAP. Test was apparently conducted in June 1993, with the LEAP passing "within 7 m of a target traveling at 750 m/s." There appeared to be little if any reporting on this test at the time it actually occurred.

LEAP 4 test was to have used Hughes LEAP, but apparently never took place.

Upper Tier Tests (Terrier/LEAP)

FTV-1: (Functional Technology Validation or Flight Test Vehicle). 24 September 1992. A modified Terrier missile was fired from the USS Richmond S. Turner to test the high-altitude aerodynamics of the missile. An 18" extension and ballast was added to the missile to simulate the LEAP. No LEAP or target was involved. Test apparently considered to be a success.

FTV-2: September 1993. Involved a SM-2 Block 3 interceptor launched from the USS Jouett. Missile reportedly successfully ejected a mock- up of the Rockwell LEAP. Apparently no target was involved.

***FTV-3: March 4, 1995 First intercept attempt for LEAP/Upper Tier, launched from the USS Turner. LEAP failed to hit target because a guidance error during the second stage caused the missile to fly too high, putting it in a position from which it could not make an intercept. This test used the Hughes version of LEAP. Two earlier attempts (on February 10 and 12) to conduct this test were canceled at the last minute.

***FTV-4: March 28, 1995 Test of Rockwell version of LEAP, again launched from USS Turner. The LEAP failed to hit the target, reportedly because the battery that supplied power to the LEAP failed.

THAAD Testing:

Original plan for THAAD testing called for a series of 14 flight test, to be completed by March 1997, with the third flight test being the first intercept attempt.

August, 1994: Simulated THAAD launch (to an altitude of roughly 200 feet) using a short-burn booster.

First Test: April 21, 1995: First THAAD flight test. Tested flight of interceptor and KKV sensors (observing moon and stars), no target was involved. Labeled a success.

Second Test: July 31 or August 1, 1995: Flight test with no target. After an energy management manuever, the THAAD velocity was higher than expected, and the missile was destroyed in order to prevent debris from leaving the test range boundaries. This happened before the seeker shroud was dropped.

Third Test: October 13, 1995: First test with a target; however because of range safety concerns, no actual intercept was attempted (the kill vehicle was programmed to miss by 20 meters or more). Primary purpose of test was to collect seeker data, and the interceptor apparently performed well. However, the THAAD GBR radar (in its first use in a flight test), which was not the prime radar for the test, malfunctioned and failed to track either THAAD or the target.

***Fourth Test: December 13, 1995: First intercept attempt. The THAAD kill vehicle failed to hit its Storm target. The miss was attributed to a software error which caused an unneeded kill vehicle divert maneuver, causing the kill vehicle to run out of divert fuel before the intercept could be made. The THAAD GBR radar, again used only in an observing role, apparently worked well.

***Fifth Test: March 22, 1996. Second intercept attempt. The THAAD interceptor missed the Hera target. The THAAD kill vehicle did not respond to commands following separation from its booster. The failure was attributed to a broken cable connecting the kill vehicle with its supporting electronics module.

***Sixth Test: July 15, 1996. Third intercept attempt. The THAAD kill vehicle failed again to hit its target, although it apparently came close to it. The failure was caused by a seeker problem. It appears that the precise cause of the seeker failure could not be conclusively determined, with loose connectors that hold electronics boards to the back of the seeker the leading suspect. The GBR radar reportedly worked well.

Seventh Test. March 6, 1997. Fourth intercept attempt. THAAD once again missed the target. The failure was attributed to the THAAD divert and attitude control system, which had worked in previous tests.