An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 12:51 Pacific Time Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. ICBM test launches demonstrate that the U.S. ICBM fleet is relevant, essential and key to leveraging dominance in an era of Strategic Competition. (U.S. Space Force photo by Michael Peterson)

A Space and Missile Defense Command team played an important behind-the-scenes role in supporting the Air Force’s Glory Trip-239, Aug. 11.

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, during Air Force Global Strike Command’s operational test impacting in a pre-established target zone roughly 4,200 miles away near SMDC’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. RTS is a range and test facility located 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Reagan Test Site people provide cradle-to-grave support for every mission, which includes requirements definition for the test, environmental impact assessment, range scheduling, range safety and logistical support. There are safety, environmental, host nation and government requirements that must be addressed for each test.

“It’s always great working with our U.S. Air Force teammates,” Lt. Col. Juan Santiago, RTS director, said. “The Reagan Test Site embraces the unique opportunity to support the USAF’s Global Strike Command.”

The purpose of ICBM test launches is to provide reliability and accuracy information as they are conducted to test the entire intercontinental ballistic missile system. Test launch data is combined with other sources of information such as static engine tests, bench tests, and system tests on fielded missiles to provide a complete picture of reliability.

Supporting the launch from Huntsville were team members at the RTS Operations Center-Huntsville, which controls sensors at the test site. ROC-H is the command and control facility for missile defense testing and for space operations at the test site despite being more than 6,500 miles from Kwajalein.

“The RTS team at ROC-H and Kwaj are tightly coupled in the daily operations of the range and especially leading up and through a test event,” Santiago said. “What makes the organization so strong is that many members of the team have worked at both locations, in Huntsville and at Kwaj, and have an acute understanding of what it takes to accomplish any and all missions.”

Reagan Test Site sensors, including high-fidelity metric and signature radars, as well as optical sensors and telemetry, play a role in the research, development, test and evaluation in support of America’s defense and space programs. RTS provides range instrumentation, ground range safety, meteorological support and data analysis and uses a full spectrum of support, including multiple radar frequencies, telemetry, and multiple high-speed optical and camera systems to capture every measurable data opportunity and provide data and information critical to system performance evaluations.

Reagan Test Site is one of the major range and test facility bases supporting glory trip missions. They collect radar, optical and telemetry data in the terminal phase of flight on behalf of the Air Force customer and track vehicles down range using radars, telemetry and optics instrumentation. For GT-239, RTS will provide scoring data from when the vehicle impacts into the Kwajalein Missile Impact Scoring System.

“The RTS team maintains support for glory trip test with highly trained government and contractor professionals working tirelessly to ensure all aspects of the test are executed to standard – everything from rehearsals, safety protocols and communications,” Santiago said.

The test results verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system and provide valuable data. The ICBM test launch program demonstrates the operational capability of the Minuteman III and ensures the United States’ ability to maintain a strong, credible nuclear deterrent as a key element of national security and the security of U.S. allies and partners.

“It was an exciting and professionally enlightening test,” Santiago said. “It’s not every day you get to witness the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile.”

Jennifer Nye, RTS mission technical director, said RTS supports many glory trip missions and during those events, Nye supports the range, mission coordination and direction.

“RTS brings a range of sensors with decades of experience in collecting and analyzing truth data to support range customers,” Nye said. “The most exciting part of a glory trip is the countdown for launch on mission day.”

The most important task RTS does for the Air Force is collect data in the terminal phase of flight to help evaluate the performance of their system.

During the mission, Ethan Bruton, RTS mission planner and range control officer for RTS Mission Operations, specializes in range control operations and coordination between the RTS team, internally, and with Air Force Global Strike Command.

“For me, the most exciting part is the suspense leading up to a successful launch, and observing RV reentry,” Bruton said. “Apart from the technical requirements for a successful mission, RTS brings a culture of cooperation, internally and cross-range, to ensure that the mission will be a success regardless of what is thrown our way.

“It is a privilege to have a role on missions that are so important to the defense of the United States. We have a supportive team and leadership that encourages every member to be their best. You won’t find this anywhere else.”

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