A remote sensor suite that will help verify the effectiveness of a ballistic missile defense system has earned a team of Laboratory scientists and engineers an award from Boeing.
The remote optical characterization sensor suite (ROCSS), based on the Lab’s unique capabilities in infrared spectrometry, has been adapted and installed on a Gulfstream IIB aircraft that will fly “intercept missions” to verify that prototype anti-ballistic missiles have hit and destroyed target mock warheads. Boeing is the prime contractor for the National Missile Defense, or NMD.
ROCSS verifies the impact of the prototype interceptor with the warhead by detecting a unique and observable “signature” identifying the warhead. The signature comes from a “seedant,” or identifying chemical, that is released upon impact and then recorded by ROCSS’s infrared sensor.
Boeing marked the successful integration and operation of the sensor suite onto an airborne platform with an award recognizing team members including Joel Bowers, Jim Curry, Mike Gerassimenko, Paul Kuzmenko, Darlene Litcher, Chuck Stevens, Jim Thournir and project leader Alex Pertica.
Ronald Peaslee, representing Boeing, presented the award in a recent ceremony at the Lab. “Boeing is big on recognizing excellence. This project is ahead of schedule and under budget,” Peaslee said. “You did some special things for us and worked long hours to meet very demanding requirements. We want this work recognized by the industry as a whole.”
Pertica said the technology was developed over the last decade as part of the Lab’s work in nonproliferation and proliferation detection technologies. The advantage of the Lab infrared spectrometer is its ability to record accurate spectra despite the rapid changes in signal intensity inherent in ballistic missile tests, he said.
The project included selection of a seedant, deuterium fluoride, and development of hardware and software for integration onto the Gulfstream aircraft. Extensive ground and in-flight tests were conducted, including simulated payload detonations at the Lab’s High Explosive Applications Facility (HEAF) were used to validate the system. The concept was also tested on intercept missiles and “sled” tests at White Sands, New Mexico. Sled tests consist of firing a rocket along a 10-mile rail into a target. “The results of those tests were really good,” Pertica said.
ROCSS will be fielding the upcoming missile defense intercept tests near the Kwajalein Missile Range in the Marshall Islands. In this “Lethality Live Fire Test and Evaluation,” scheduled for later this year or early next, a prototype anti-ballistic missile will be launched to intercept a mock warhead. The warhead reentry vehicle will contain the seedant. When the anti-ballistic missile’s “kill vehicle” strikes and tears open the reentry vehicle, the deuterium fluoride will be released.
“We use deuterium fluoride because it has a unique spectral signal that can’t be mistaken for something else,” Pertica explained.
The flash of light from the explosion will be recorded from 850 miles away by the ROCSS equipment aboard the specially adapted Gulfstream aircraft. Pertica and Curry will be aboard manning the sensor system. After the test, the aircraft will return to base and the data will be analyzed on the ground to verify the performance of the test.
Pertica said the current ROCSS system could serve as a foundation for more sophisticated future systems that could identify missile types from booster exhaust and, eventually, the type of warhead—nuclear, chemical or biological.
“The technology is not there yet,” he said, “but this could serve as a first step.”