The U.S. Air Force, in partnership with the Strategic Capabilities Office, conducted a flight test of a prototype conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile on Thursday, Dec. 12.
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.
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.
“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) 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 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.
“Our collaboration with Northrop Grumman demonstrates SMC’s commitment to exploring innovative, complimentary capability for the Air Force, DOD, and ultimately the Warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief of SMC’s Small Launch and Targets Division and mission director for the conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile flight test.
The joint government-industry team began work after the U.S suspended its 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 SMC Launch Enterprise’s Small Launch and Targets Division, located at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is responsible for the Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP). Established in 1972, RSLP is chartered with the disposal or refurbishment of decommissioned ICBM rocket motors.
“Mission success is the Launch Enterprise’s number one priority and I am proud of the Small Launch and Targets Team for their dedication to this mission,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise.
USA’s INF Treaty Withdrawal
The development of new intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles were announced by the U.S. after it formally withdrew from the INF Treaty with Russia in August.
The agreement, 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. This test would have been not possible under the INF Treaty.