The sole U.S. defense against long-range ballistic missiles that could carry chemical, biological or nuclear warheads recently failed its second test in a row, according to officials from the Department of Defense.
"The Missile Defense Agency was unable to achieve a planned intercept of a ballistic missile target during a test over the Pacific Ocean today," Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement, according to Reuters.
Lehner declined to give a preliminary explanation for the cause of the failure of the Boeing-produced system. The recent setback brings the ground-based midcourse defense’s record to eight hits out of 15 attempts, according to the Missile Defense Agency.
“"This is a tremendous setback for the testing of this complicated system," Riki Ellison, the head of the Missile Defense Advocacy Group, a booster organization, wrote in a statement, according to Reuters.
Ellison is concerned that the failure raised a cloud of doubt over the deployment of the approximately 30 missile interceptors based in Alaska and California.
The critical test was a repeat of a failed January 31 exercise in which an advanced sea-based radar system did not perform as the DOD had hoped, according to Reuters.
During the December 15 test, an intermediate-range ballistic missile target launched from the Marshall Islands flew successfully, so did a long range interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The sea-based X-Band radar system functioned properly and the interceptor was capable of launching its kill vehicle, designed to collide with the ballistic missile target. The collision never took place and officials will now work to find the cause of the failure. The next test will not occur until the problem is fully identified.
The United States has spent over $10 billion per year to fund missile defense programs. A team led by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon are in competition to oust Boeing for the ground-based missile defense program. The contract is valued at $4.2 billion over the next seven years.