Sunday, 15 November 2020

SM-3 Block IIA Missile Defense test FTM-44 against an ICBM-class target imminent, 17-19 November 2020 [UPDATED]

Click to enlarge. Image: MDA

Three days ago, on 12 November 2020, a Navigational Warning appeared that denoted three hazard zones in the northern Pacific for the period 17 to 19 November, connected to what clearly is some kind of missile test:


121041Z NOV 20
   ALTERNATE 0400Z TO 1000Z DAILY 18 AND 19 NOV 
   A. 09-12N 167-43E, 09-01N 167-40E, 
      08-58N 167-43E, 08-58N 167-48W, 
      09-00N 167-59W, 09-30N 168-18E, 
      09-43N 168-04E. 
   B. 11-22N 170-00E, 11-08N 170-10E, 
      11-44N 173-34E, 13-13N 176-53E, 
      15-39N 178-17E, 18-07N 179-23E, 
      18-48N 177-48E, 17-13N 174-19E,
      16-18N 173-08E, 13-08N 171-00E. 
   C. 44-06N 133-00W, 35-00N 131-00W, 
      28-30N 143-30W, 44-06N 140-30W. 
2. CANCEL THIS MSG 191100Z NOV 20.


I have plotted the three area's  in the map below. Note that there appears to be a clerical error in the Navigational Warning for two of the positions defining area A: those reading "W" should probably read "E", which results in a hazard area which makes much more sense (in the map below, the original, probably erroneous, shape for area A is depicted in red: what was likely meant in white).

(note added 17 Nov: an update to this Navigational Warning issued as HYDROPAC 3337/20 confirms the clerical error)

click map to enlarge

The location of the areas lead me to believe it points to a Missile Defense test: an attempt to intercept a dummy Ballistic Missile launched from Kwajalein towards the US main land. Area A denotes the immediate launch hazard zone for the dummy ICBM at Kwajalein; area B where the first second stage of the dummy ICBM will come down; area C the intercept area where the SM-3 interceptor will be fired and the intercept occurs.

Based on the location and shape direction of area C, I initially (and erroneously) thought it might be a Ground-Based Midcourse Defense test from one of the GBMD sites in Alaska. However, after some discussion with the Twitter missile community and some digging around, I am now quite confident that this is not a GMBD test, but an AEGIS SM-3 test, with the SM-3 intercept missile fired from a US Navy Destroyer located in the Pacific in the north of area C. Basically, the situation below:

Click to enlarge

(those of you who remember the infamous Operation Burnt Frost will know the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3): it was used to destroy the malfunctioned USA 193 satellite on 20 February 2008)

Indeed, a Missile Defense test with an SM-3 Block IIA missile, designated as test FTM-44, is known to have been originally scheduled in the Pacific for the third quarter of 2020.  It next was postponed due to the impact of the Corona pandemic, to late 2020

The Navigational Warning NAVAREA XII 509/20 that appeared three days ago now suggests that the FTM-44 test is imminent, and will take place between 17 and 19 November with the daily window running from 04:00 to 10:00 UT. The locations and shapes of the hazard zones designated in the Navigational Warning NAVAREA XII 590/20 fit well with what we know about the FTM-44 test (see below).

A US Naval Institute news release from August 2020 includes the following schematic graphic for FTM-44: compare this to the graphics above and note the clear similarity (note that my figure above is a view from the north,while the MDA figure below is a view from the south):

Click to enlarge. Image: MDA

Test FTM-44 will be the first attempt at intercepting an ICBM-class  missile rather than a MRBM, extending the system to include ICBM targets. AEGIS previously only included short- and medium range ballistic targets. From the position of area C, the intercept will take place at a range of about 6500 km from the Kwajalein launch site.

As can be seen from the MDA diagram above,  the test includes the use of Space-Based assets (satellites): the Space-Based Infra-Red System (SBIRS) for the initial detection of the launch of the dummy ICBM from GEO and HEO, and the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) for additional tracking of the ICBM missile through midcourse.

Satellites from the STSS system make passes with view of the test area around the following times during the 3-day test window:

Nov 17  ~04:15 UT
Nov 17  ~05:15 UT
Nov 17  ~06:15 UT
Nov 17  ~07:15 UT
Nov 17  ~08:15 UT
Nov 17  ~09:15 UT
Nov 17  ~10:00 UT

Nov 18  ~04:40 UT
Nov 18  ~05:40 UT
Nov 18  ~06:40 UT
Nov 18  ~07:40 UT
Nov 18  ~08:40 UT
Nov 18  ~09:40 UT
Nov 18  ~10:00 UT

Nov 19  ~04:05 UT
Nov 19  ~05:05 UT
Nov 19  ~06:05 UT
Nov 19  ~07:05 UT
Nov 19  ~08:05 UT
Nov 19  ~09:05 UT
Nov 19  ~10:00 UT

The US Naval Institute news release from August 2020 suggests that the FTM-44 SM-3 interceptor will be fired from the USS John Finn. This Arleigh-Burke class Destroyer will probably be located in the northern part of area C from the Navigational Warning.

USS John Finn. Image: US Navy (through Wikimedia)

UPDATE  (17 Nov 11:25 UT):

A news release from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has confirmed that FTM-44 has taken place this morning, and was successful. It states that the target was launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site at Kwajalein at 7:50 pm Hawaii Standard Time (=17 Nov 5:50 UT). With an approximately 21 minutes flight time, this should place the intercept near 6:11 UT (17 Nov 2020). [edit: but this assumes a typical ICBM speed, zo there is leeway in this time of intercept]

Between the time of launch and intercept, the STSS DEMO 2 satellite (2009-052B) was well positioned to track the target-ICBM mid-course (note: the position of the Destroyer that fired the SM-3 interceptor missile in the image below, has been assumed):

click image to enlarge


Footage from the test has been released and can be seen here on the MDA website.

Graphic simulation of the test on the MDA website.

The MDA footage of the target launch and the MDA simulation linked above, confirm that the target ICBM was launched from 9.0065 N, 167.7270 E.

click to enlarge. Image: Google Earth

Acknowledgement: this blog post benefitted from discussions with Simon Petersen, Scott Lafoy and Ankit Panda.


Unknown said...

Do you think these tests are practicing for icbm's out of China or North Korea? You are doing amazing work keeping up on this information. This is next level stuff your keeping track of. Your not alone others are watching too. Keep up the good work.

Unknown said...

I never heard of an ICBM launch out of Kwajalein, normally ICBM's are launched out of Vandenberg AFB CA with Kwajalein islands as the target. I don't think they have a ICBM launch facility on Kwajalein.

SatTrackCam Leiden said...

As the USNI graphic makes clear, the target is launched from Kwajalein. Kwajalein is part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, and has seen several launches of Missile Defense targets in the past.
The Vandenberg AFB launches you point out, are test launches from operational ICBM (Minuteman) facilities, which are unrelated to Missile Defense tests. Vandenberg is alos used to launch interceptors during Missile Defense tests, the targets again being launched frim Kwajalein.
Here is a launch from Kwajalein in March 2019:

SatTrackCam Leiden said...

The Missile Defense news release on the successful test (see update at bottom of post) confirms that the ICBM-class target was launched from Kwajalein.

jhouse678 said...

Amazing work. We live in an age where open source info can really give us a window to things even the media rarely can. Thanks.