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The Space and Missile Defense Command low-cost target team has supported the latest missile defense tests.

SMDC Technical Center’s Targets Division launched a Black Dagger target from Fort Wingate, New Mexico, into White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, Oct. 1 during a flight test demonstrating new interoperability between the Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, systems.

“Preliminary indications are that the launch was very successful,” Cain Crouch, launch test director and aerospace engineer with the Targets Division, said. “The purpose was to further test the capability of the interceptor system and at first glance, the target met all performance requirements and our customers are extremely satisfied with the target performance.

“This was the Targets Division’s third successful ballistic missile target launch in 98 days. I don’t think there are many, if any, teams in the world that could accomplish that feat. Additionally, the fact that all three launches have been conducted in the middle of a pandemic is beyond impressive. I’m truly amazed by our team’s diligence, dedication and professionalism. All of these people really make the job of a program manager very easy. I very much appreciate all of them.”

Members of the Targets Division built the Black Dagger target as a ballistic missile target capable of threat-matching for use in advanced missile defense systems testing.

The Black Dagger is a two-stage, short-range ballistic missile that is created by mating a Pathfinder Zombie target missile, another SMDC custom-built target missile, on top of a Terrier MK70 first stage booster.

Black Dagger, along with Sabre Zombie and Pathfinder Zombie targets, are a suite of low-cost targets using government-owned rocket components that have reached the end of their useful life.

Rather than demilitarizing the rocket components, Jeff Compton, launch director and mission assurance lead in SMDC Tech Center System Engineering Directorate, said the Targets Division re-purposes the hardware.

“This was the fourth successful launch this calendar year, with three of those occurring during pandemic conditions,” Compton said. “The target performed exactly as expected. I understand that our customer was very pleased with the target performance.

“This Zombie program is very impressive. To conduct four successful target launches in one year is no small feat. The target is expected to be there and to perform as required, and this target does exactly that.”

Compton serves as the primary liaison between the industry launch team and government test director. Any time there is an off-nominal situation, he makes sure the test director has the updated information on where the launch team is in the count. Compton is also the primary point of contact for personnel going to the launch pad to ensure the pad chief is not surprised by a group of people that may show up unannounced.

The test demonstrated the ability to expand the area a Patriot battery can defend by using a THAAD radar. The Patriot system was able to launch its interceptor sooner and engage the threat missile earlier in flight.

During the flight test, an Army-Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance and Control Model 2 detected and tracked the Black Dagger. A Patriot weapon system successfully achieved an intercept of the target with a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement interceptor using data provided by the AN/TPY-2 radar.

“We are very blessed to have a great team that works with us from White Sands Missile Range,” Compton said. “I deal with the range safety group very closely to make sure they have all the information they need and are not surprised by any data deliveries. That’s really important – don’t surprise range safety. Otherwise you may be looking at a delay to your mission.

“This group is great. Everyone works together and works hard. I’ve been on many launches, and I’ve seen some good launch crews. This group pulls together when things get bad. Everyone has a role and you can really feel the teamwork. I am blessed to be a part of this family.”

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