American defense contractor, Northrop Grumman supported the demonstration flight test conducted by the U.S. Air Force, in partnership with the Strategic Capabilities Office, of a prototype conventionally-configured, ground-launched ballistic missile on Dec. 12.
According to a company statement, the missile “displayed Northrop Grumman’s capability for rapid development and launch in support of urgent requests from the Department of Defense”.
The test missile was launched from the USAF 30th Space Wing’s Test Pad-01 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County, California at approximately 8:30 am. Pacific Time. The missile terminated in the open ocean after more than 500 kilometers of flight.
“Data collected and lessons learned from this test will inform the Department of Defense’s development of future intermediate-range capabilities”, according to a statement released by 30th Space Wing.
Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS) – the former Orbital ATK – was the primary launch services contractor behind the execution of the mission. The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) awarded the contract to NGIS in a record time of 12 days and was responsible for providing program management and mission assurance certification and testing, leading to full launch and mission readiness.
“We pride ourselves on being the team that can rapidly design, develop and launch missiles contributing to the protection of the United States and its allies,” said Rich Straka, vice president, launch vehicles, Northrop Grumman.
The mission served as a risk reduction demonstration for the development of future intermediate-range capabilities following the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The joint government-industry team began work after the U.S suspended its INF treaty obligations in February, and executed this launch mission within nine months of contract award as opposed to the traditional 24-month mission schedule.
The INF treaty, signed in December 1987 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, limited both nations from fielding both short-range (500–1,000 km) and intermediate-range (1,000–5,500 km) land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers that could be used to house either nuclear or conventional payloads. The treaty did not apply to air- or sea-launched missiles.
Following the INF Treaty withdrawal, on Aug. 18, the U.S. conducted a flight test of a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile. These two tests would have been not possible under the INF Treaty.