Missile Defense Agency Promises 'Aggressive' Review After Latest Failed Test

After an unsuccessful July 5 test, the head of America's missile defense program promised Congress to "aggressively attack" any quality control problems and figure out what went wrong.

But lawmakers expressed alarm about a track record of unsuccessful tests with global threats growing and the administration seeking more than a trillion dollars in additional interceptors.

Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, appeared today before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to answer questions about his department's 2014 budget request.

The interceptor missile was launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., but failed to take down a long-range ballistic missile target launched from the U.S. Army’s Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands.

"We have started an extensive review to determine the cause of the failure," Syring told the panel today. "We did demonstrate all possible secondary objectives… however, the overall test was a failure because the primary objective of intercepting the target was not met."

In later questioning, he said the failure came at the booster separation.

The director said the future plan would include more regular testing and accelerated upgrades after testing. "Regardless of the path we embark on, we will aggressively attack any substantiated quality control problems coming out of the failure review board that need to be corrected through the program," he said.

The agency plans to increase the operational fleet of ground-based interceptors from 30 to 44 by 2017, and is evaluating possible locations in the continental U.S. "to determine a site suitable for possible future deployment of homeland defense interceptors," Syring said.

Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) noted that the Pentagon has a 50 percent success rate in intercepting test targets "and the system's track record has not improved over time."

He also highlighted the fact that the ground missile defense system has not been tested against an intercontinental ballistic missile and no such test is planned until 2015.

"Of the 30 deployed GMD interceptors, it has been reported that half included obsolete parts while an additional 10 have been taken off operational status because of a known design flaw," Durbin added.

"I won't stipulate the number due to classification, but there are a number of GBIs that are available to the war-fighter, but in a lesser readiness condition, but still usable by the war-fighter," Syring said.

"Since President Reagan announced this concept 30 years ago and we started making rather substantial investments, there are still serious questions as to whether or not we have a missile defense system that can protect America against threats that [we] believe could be coming our way from Iran, North Korea or other enemies of our country," Durbin said. "…How can you say that you're confident that America could be defended if we've never tested our system against an intercontinental ballistic missile?"

"We have extensive model and simulation capability that projects the results of our conducted intercept testing into the longer range environment," Syring responded. "Speed and distance is important and, as we have a target that's available for intercept testing starting in 2015, we will actually demonstrate that. But our models and simulations and ground testing that we have done indicate that we would be successful."