A Patriot Advanced Capability Three Missile Segment Enhancement missile fired from White Sands Missile Range in the early morning Dec. 10 intercepted a Juno target fired from Fort Wingate, New Mexico, outside of Gallup, New Mexico.
The firings were conducted to test the capability of the Patriot system using PDB-8 battle command system software to detect, classify, engage and kill a threat representative tactical ballistic missile with a PAC-3 MSE missile.
The target was a 50-foot, two-stage ballistic missile. The first and second stages were provided by Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the re-entry vehicle was provided by Orbital Corporation. The build-up and integration of the missile and re-entry vehicle was also done by Orbital. The Juno was launched straight up into the sky and left the Earth’s atmosphere before curving down into WSMR’s expansive range. The Juno dropped its first-stage booster in a designated booster drop zone located in the Cibola National Forest near Datil, New Mexico, where a WSMR Army Air Detachment helicopter was waiting to recover the booster.
Cities hundreds of miles away saw the corkscrew-shaped contrail that was lit up by the early-morning sun due to crystallized water vapor in the atmosphere. The WSMR Public Affairs Office received several media calls from Los Angeles to Albuquerque where the contrail was visible.
The off-site launch was the fifteenth target launch conducted in support of the Patriot Program, and the first off-site launch since September of 2012. WSMR began using Fort Wingate in 1997 to conduct target launches in support of Patriot, according to Target Test Officer James Fernandez.
“The successful test was one in a series and was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work for several of our team members,” said Material Test Directorate Director Jerry Tyree. “This test was only possible because of their dedication, passion and expertise. These are very complex and highly-technical tests focused on collecting data to ensure the Patriot System upgrades are effective, suitable and survivable before they are fielded to the Soldiers charged with utilizing them to protect our Nation.”
Approximately 500 WSMR employees worked on everything from ammunition, site prep, communications, test conduct, instrumentation, data collection and transport, test engineering and analysis for the execution of the test with several employees spending months at Fort Wingate, an old military depot approximately 300 miles to the northwest of WSMR.
“Fort Wingate is not operational daily, only when tests are scheduled,” Tyree said.
Todd Harris, a test conductor for the Patriot test said that he came out six months prior to the test to start cutting bushes, conducting pest control, fixing fences and repairing roads.
“It may sound like little jobs, but you have to take care of these types of things to get ready for this kind of test,” Harris said. “We have to ensure Fort Wingate is in perfect condition to receive and launch the target missile.”
Two months prior to the launch, the Juno missile was delivered in seven big pieces. Orbital engineers spent the eight weeks assembling the missile, ensuring every detail was triple or quadruple checked.
During the summer when Fort Wingate was being spun up for the Dec. 10 launch, Darren Halterman, a telecommunication specialist in the Information Management Directorate, was told that there had been a fire inside the communications bunker which destroyed critical communications systems within the bunker that affected communication from Fort Wingate to WSMR. Halterman and Telecommunication Specialist Ricardo Vigil spent several weeks repairing and installing miles of wires to restore internet, phone lines, voice networks and other communication necessities for a launch in concert with WSMR.
On launch day there were two command and control centers operating; one at Cox Range Control Center on WSMR and one Transportable Range Augmentation and Control System at Fort Wingate. Both teams reported to work eight hours prior to the launch and worked tirelessly through the night and early morning to T-time. WSMR meteorologists released several weather balloons and analyzed the data to determine if the conditions were right for the launch. Dozens of radar, telemetry and optics specialists sat in their seats as they anxiously stared at their screens. Safety personnel were focused on watching the path of the missile to ensure public safety as their hand hovered by the destruct button they could press if anything went wrong. Hundreds of other WSMR personnel were at their posts, ready to support the test which would be seen by millions.
At approximately 7 a.m. all systems were green and the launch occurred flawlessly, culminating in the successful completion of this highly technical and complex test.
“This test was conducted to prove that the Patriot can do everything we upgraded it to do,” said Patriot Test Officer Bill Elowitz. “We have made the Patriot into an even more capable missile, which will continue to save lives and bring our troops home to their families.”
WSMR and the project office will spend the next several weeks analyzing all of the data collected from the missile and booster.
“The analysis will provide invaluable feedback to us on the inner workings of both the Juno and Patriot so that we can continue to improve the capabilities of both the target system and the weapon system,” Tyree said.