August 28, 2007 The Cold War might be over, but the underlying strategy that arose with Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense program in the 1980s lives on as the threat of long-range missile attack remains a global concern. Lockheed Martin have just announced successful testing of part of the Missile Defense Agency's “Multiple Kill Vehicle” program designed to be a single-launch platform to neutralize an entire fleet of incoming enemy missiles.

Before Reagan’s Star Wars speech in 1983, America’s missile defense system consisted mainly of the simple and scary concept of Mutual Assured Destruction – you bomb us, we’ll bomb you before yours land. Since that point a number of more sophisticated missile defense programs have been launched – and with each of these has come a series of more sophisticated missile attack techniques.

Once America had successfully developed the ability to shoot a missile out of the sky, military researchers quickly realized that a clever enemy would simply have to launch one nuclear missile together with a bunch of decoy missiles in order to fool or overwhelm the missile defense system into uselessness.

To combat this simple tactic, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) came up with the idea of a “Multiple Kill Vehicle,” or MKV, a large rocket that could be launched at a fleet of incoming missiles in their mid-course stage of flight. Upon approaching the swarm of attacking missiles at thousands of miles per hour, a number of smaller kill vehicles would be dispatched from the MKV to identify and destroy all credible threat objects identified by an onboard sensor system.

It is thus an economical single-launch platform to counter a number of simultaneous threats approaching from the same direction – and economics is an important factor in missile defense theory; with the defense systems frequently being much more expensive to deploy than the missiles themselves, there is a theoretical possibility that the defense systems could be overcome by a wealthy opponent willing to continue launching projectiles until the cost of the defense systems overwhelmed the target country’s resources.

Lockheed Martin, in charge of the MKV development effort on behalf of the MDA, recently announced the successful testing of a key element of the MKV payload at Edwards Air Force Base's National Hover Test Facility. An extended duration demonstration of the carrier vehicle's divert and attitude control system, built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, met performance objectives established by the MDA.

During an engagement with the enemy, this high-performance propulsion system maneuvers the carrier vehicle and its cargo of kill vehicles into the threat complex to intercept the targets. With tracking data from the Ballistic Missile Defense System and its own heat detecting sensor, the carrier vehicle dispenses and guides the kill vehicles to destroy targets in the complex using their own individual maneuver rockets.

The Multiple Kill Vehicle adds volume kill capability for the war fighter and is a force multiplier for all of the land- and sea-based weapons of the integrated mid-course missile defense system. In the event of an enemy launch, a single interceptor equipped with this payload destroys not only the re-entry vehicle but also all credible threat objects; including countermeasures the enemy deploys to try to spoof the defenses. This many-on-many strategy eliminates the need for extensive pre-launch intelligence while leveraging the Ballistic Missile Defense System's discrimination capability, ensuring a robust and affordable solution to emerging threats.