(Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series on the Black Dagger/Boosted Zombie Target ballistic missile launch at McGregor Range, New Mexico.)
FORT BLISS, Texas -- Zombie targets are not only reborn in the Army, they also get a boost to their performance.
Members of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center, in support of the Program Executive Office Missiles and Space's Lower Tier Program Office, or LTPO, test-fired its first Black Dagger/Boosted Zombie Target realistic threat ballistic missile target for use in future testing of advanced missile defense systems.
Boosted Zombie Target, or BZT, launched from McGregor Range at Fort Bliss, Texas, and landed in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, during a risk reduction flight to test design, performance and launch operations June 7.
Boosted Zombie consists of Pathfinder Zombie, which is a low-cost guided target designed to fly a ballistic flight path and demonstrate defensive protection capability with the addition of a Mark 70 Terrier Missile motor booster. The additional rocket booster more than doubles the range of the Zombie target.
'This two-stage configuration of the Zombie target increases the range available to fly the target giving us additional capability for our customers to test against,' said Kevin Creekmore, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Tech Center Test Execution Support Division, or TESD, chief. 'The Boosted Zombie Target replicates additional threat missile characteristics, beyond the single stage Zombie target capabilities by providing higher, faster and longer trajectories.
'By completing the risk reduction flight at White Sands Missile Range, we will prove out the system and gain confidence in flying it at different launch sites at greater distances from the missile defense defended areas,' he added.
The Zombie target suite includes the 4-meter Sabre Zombie and 6-meter Pathfinder Zombie single stage configurations, as well as the 6-meter two stage configuration of the Black Dagger/Boosted Zombie target.
The Boosted Zombie target program actually started in 2013, but due to other priorities, the mission was delayed until 2018.
'A tremendous amount of work has been performed by the team and everyone is looking forward to a successful mission,' Creekmore said. 'We also know this is just another step in the Zombie suite of targets and are excited about launching these targets in support of multiple intercept tests in the future.
'Our goal in starting the Zombie project was to provide end-to-end flight test planning, design, development, integration and test execution, as well as flexible launch platforms and unique low-cost target solutions,' he added. 'The successful launch of the Boosted Zombie Target will be another step toward this goal. These targets allow SMDC/ARSTRAT customers, like Patriot PAC-3, to conduct cost-effective flight testing for both developmental testing and operational testing.'
As the risk reduction flight completed its successful test, White Sands Missile Range Flight Safety activated the flight termination system and gathered information for future testing.
With the Army and testers of missile defense programs looking to save money on ballistic missile targets, SMDC's Zombie suite of low-cost targets looks to cut expenses from the previously used high-end, short-range targets. These savings will allow program managers to stretch their testing budgets and apply funding to where it is needed while reducing the program's overall testing budget.
Boosted Zombie is an alternative to high-cost, high-performance, high-fidelity tactical ballistic missile targets historically used in Patriot PAC-3 and other advanced missile testing. TESD currently projects the full cost of a Boosted Zombie test launch to be approximately $10 million, including all hardware, launch services and post-launch data analysis.
The Boosted Zombie Target program is primarily funded by the Central Test and Evaluation Investment Program, or CTEIP, through their Resource Enhancement Project division to support future operational testing of Department of Defense assets. CTEIP covered all design and development costs with mission costs shared by the potential prime user, LTPO, and SMDC, with development done through Orbital ATK divisions in Virginia and Arizona.
A team member also explained how the Black Dagger program is designed to conserve taxpayer money and utilize already existing systems to accomplish the mission of providing low-cost targets.
'TESD receives funding from multiple project offices that require a specific threat-representative ballistic missile target to test missile defense interceptors,' said Heather Corbett, TESD program analyst. 'The Boosted Zombie test utilizes end-of-service-life assets, and components from legacy systems, to formulate low-cost ballistic missile targets. The re-purposing of this government-owned hardware, instead of paying for demilitarization, ultimately saves the taxpayers money and allows the production of a cost-effective ballistic missile target.'
The risk reduction flight is the final step in the approval process for Boosted Zombie's future missions out of Fort Wingate, New Mexico. This will allow TESD to expand the range and velocity achievements for Boosted Zombie to give warfighters an opportunity to test in more realistic scenarios.
This risk reduction flight took the TESD team nearly five years to complete, but with the launch's success the new iterations should be much quicker at approximately 24 months.
One teammate said they learn something new with each flight test and it paves the way for product improvements, allows the Army to test more often and ultimately benefits the warfighter.
'I'm very excited to see these years of hard work by so many people finally come to fruition with a successful test,' said Stephanie Chrisley, TESD engineer. 'We are supporting the missile test community, and their warfighters. This variant of the Zombie target will allow for a different mission set and, being low-cost, hopefully, allow them to test more frequently.
'We plan to make testing more accessible and routine for the warfighter,' she added. 'With the low-cost targets we want to make sure we test our systems as thoroughly as possible, and provide every Soldier with an opportunity to train against a target.'