The Space and Missile Defense Command Technical Center’s targets team launched a Pathfinder Zombie target May 19 from the Hebrides Range in Scotland during the ongoing At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield 2021 exercise.
The purpose of At-Sea Demo/Formidable Shield 2021, which includes approximately 10 nations participating with ships, aircraft, ground assets and deployed staff, is to improve allied interoperability in a joint live-fire Integrated Air and Missile Defense environment. SMDC played a role in the exercise by internationally shipping a fully integrated round for the first time.
“This was my first mission as test director for SMDC. Leading this team of professionals in the first international Pathfinder Zombie launch was an honor for me and being in Scotland was pretty special within itself,” Pamela Galloway, mission test director, Targets Test Directorate, Technical Center, said. “We provided a successful target at the planned launch time and appeared to have met all test objectives. Early indications are that the Pathfinder Zombie launch and flight were nominal.”
She then explained how launching from overseas changed how the team normally operates during a launch.
“Logistics was our main challenge,” Galloway said. “With this mission being overseas we had to develop a new logistics plan, which included building up the target into an All-Up-Round, or AUR, and shipping that AUR to the United Kingdom. After researching several options for shipping the round, we opted for a new acquisition for a shipping container that required design, manufacturing and test just weeks prior to use.
“Another challenge was that the range integration time was split between two other target programs preparing for their launch, so our team had to be more flexible on how we prepared for ops. The entire effort was very challenging.”
She said the team adapted well to the unknowns of operating on a foreign range.
“After multiple range holds, none due to our target, and sitting on console for 12 hours when our nominal count is 5.25 hours, the Pathfinder Zombie team ran a flawless hot countdown and launched exactly on the time defined by the customer,” Galloway said.
Galloway and three other team members were onsite for the launch, with others from SMDC supporting them from Redstone Arsenal. She added that the whole team was critical to the mission planning and development of the Pathfinder Zombie target launch.
Team member Ricky Judy, SMDC ground support lead, said one their biggest obstacles was ensuring the team brought everything they might need to complete the mission.
“You don’t have the luxury of running to the store to purchase items at a moment’s notice,” Judy said. “Another challenge is working at a new range and trying to meet their range requirements during a pandemic. Working around the restrictions of number of personnel assembling for meetings, target checks and pad preparations along with making sure we coordinated with the range on any requirement or procedure that might affect the current daily operational tempo. And let’s not forget driving. It was quite an adventure at times.”
Judy said one of the successes for the team while in Scotland was being able to use their new shipping container to transport a ready-to-fire target.
“This was the first test of the container with an all-up-round shipped from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, to Scotland on a C-130 aircraft,” Judy said. “And while I was not on the ground for the launch, it proved to be a valuable experience for me as I now have a better understanding of their range requirements, how their range operates and logistic readiness necessities for a successful mission in a foreign nation.”
After the test, Kevin Creekmore, Test Directorate director and launch target mission director, said the exercise is the most complex integrated air and missile defense event the Zombie team has participated in.
“We launched a Pathfinder Zombie target, used for a simulated sea-based terminal engagement, to include coordination with multiple allied ships along with concurrent air-breathing threats,” Creekmore said. “Pathfinder Zombie is a threat representative, low-cost Short Range Ballistic Missile target suitable for use in U.S. and foreign missile defense testing. The Zombie targets utilize excess Army motors that are near the end of their operational life, but can be repurposed for flight testing at much lower cost than developing new system.”
Creekmore said the Pathfinder Zombie government and contractor team worked extremely hard and came together in difficult conditions to provide a target meeting mission requirements.
“The team performed exceptionally and really represented the Army and United States well during the planning and execution of this mission,” Creekmore said. “Due to COVID-19 restrictions the coordination and planning was radically revised for the original plan and required extensive coordination due to the diverse nature of the test participants and the remote location of the event.”