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US Ballistic Missile Defense Timeline: 1945-2013

Jump to a period: 1945 - 1989 // 1990 - 1999 // 2000 - present  

1945. Following World War II, the US Army begins planning for research and development of missile defenses. Meanwhile, US defense contractors conclude that such technology is beyond their current reach.

1957. US begins work on its first major missile defense effort, the Nike-Zeus system.

1962. After technology flaws doom the Nike-Zeus project, the US begins work on the Nike X missile defense program, which uses nuclear-tipped interceptors.

1966. US Defense Secretary McNamara announces that the Soviet Union has deployed its Galosh missile defense system.

September 1967. President Johnson announces plans to deploy the Sentinel missile defense system (a successor to the Nike X program).

February 1969. President Nixon delays deployment to review US nuclear programs.

March 1969. Now called Safeguard, the system is given go-ahead for deployment.

August 1969. US Senate votes to deploy Safeguard missile defense, with the Vice President casting a tie-breaking vote.

May 1972. US and Soviet Union sign the ABM Treaty, banning nationwide missile defenses and limiting each side to two missile defense sites with no more than 100 interceptors at each site.

July 1974. ABM Treaty amended to allow only one limited missile defense site to each side.

October 1, 1975. Safeguard system begins operating in Grand Forks, ND.

October 2, 1975. US House of Representatives votes to close the Grand Forks Safeguard site.

January 1976. The full Congress approves shutting down Safeguard, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announces the system's termination.

1978. The Safeguard system is terminated completely.

March 23, 1983. President Reagan announces that the US will start an expanded research and development program of missile defense system which makes "nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." His idea becomes the "Strategic Defense Initiative," or SDI. Opponents call it "Star Wars."

April 24, 1984. Secretary of Defense Weinberger signs a Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) charter.

October 1986. President Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev discuss the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, but the proposal collapses when Reagan refuses to agree to limitations on SDI.

June 14, 1989. President Bush decides to continue the SDI program, but focus on the development of "Brilliant Pebbles," a space-based interceptor design.

July 31, 1989. Presidents Bush and Gobachev sign START I, reducing arsenals to 6,000 deployed warheads on each side. 

January 29, 1991. President Bush announces the Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS) system to counter unauthorized, accidental or limited attacks.

February 1991. During the Persian Gulf War, the US Patriot missile attempts to intercept Iraqi Scud attacks. Despite initial glowing reports from the Pentagon, a study by the General Accounting Office shows that only 9 percent of intercept attempts were reliably successful.

January 3,1993. Presidents Bush and Yeltsin sign START II, limiting deployed warheads on each side to 3,000-3,500.

May 1993. Secretary of Defense Aspin renames SDIO the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO).

February 15, 1995. The House narrowly defeats the section of the Republican "Contract with America" requiring deployment of a nationwide missile defense as soon as practical.

November 1995. A report from the intelligence community declares that no country could threaten the US with a ballistic missile attack in the next 15 years.

March 1996. The "Defend America Act," which declares it US policy to build a limited missile defense by 2003 is introduced in Congress, but does not come to a vote due to the enormous projected cost of deployment, then estimated at $31-60 billion.

June 24, 1997. First fly-by test of the Boeing/TRW exoatmospheric kill vehicle for the NMD system. A lawsuit filed by a former TRW employee alleges that TRW misled defense officials about the results of the test.

March 21, 1997. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agree to a START III framework.

September 26, 1997. The US and Russia agree that the ABM Treaty includes Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

February 1998. First report issued by commission chaired by retired Air Force Gen. Larry Welch on the status of US missile defense programs. The report is critical of BMDO's efforts, finding a "rush to failure" schedule.

April 30, 1998. DoD selects Boeing as lead contractor for the NMD program.

July 1998. A commission chaired by Donald Rumsfeld (now secretary of defense) finds that the threat of a ballistic missile attack could emerge sooner than predicted in the 1995 intelligence estimate. Many experts criticize the commission, however, for emphasizing what could happen rather than what was likely to happen.

August 31, 1998. North Korea launches a Taepo Dong 1 missile over Japan, but the third stage fails to put its payload in orbit.

January 20, 1999. DoD requests more funds for NMD and announces the delay of the target date for achieving initial operating capability from 2003 to 2005, also moving the deployment decision date to June 2000.

March 1999. "The National Missile Defense Act of 1999" passes the Senate, while the House of Representatives approves a measure committing the United States to deploy national missile defenses.

July 23, 1999. President Clinton signs the National Missile Defense Act of 1999, but lists four criteria he will use to make an ultimate deployment decision: threat, cost, technological status of NMD, and adherence to a renegotiated ABM Treaty.

September 1999. The Welch panel again concludes that the Pentagon's approach is extremely high-risk after assessing the reconfigured NMD program. 

October 2, 1999. This element test (IFT-3) of the EKV relied on a surrogate booster vehicle. Because the Inertial Measurement Unit malfunctioned, the EKV used a backup acquisition mode to acquire the target.

January 19, 2000. The first end-to-end system intercept test (IFT-4), relying on a surrogate booster vehicle. The test was designed to target a mock warhead, transmitting its location by GPS, and ignore a single large decoy balloon. The missile failed to intercept the target due to a failure of the EKV infrared homing sensors' cooling system a few seconds before the planned intercept. This was the first test that integrated other elements of the NMD system into the actual test scenario.

June 13, 2000. The third Welch panel reports that NMD deployment by 2005 for Initial Operational Capability (IOC) remains high risk.

July 8, 2000. First Integrated System intercept Test (IFT-5) featuring all NMD elements in the initial capability except for the interceptor booster. The test failed when the EKV did not separate from the surrogate booster used. As well, the test decoy failed to inflate.

September 1, 2000. President Clinton decides not to proceed with deployment of the NMD system, citing the status of technology and concerns among the US allies and opposition from Russia and China. He defers an ultimate deployment decision to the next administration.

January 2001. President Bush affirms his plan to deploy a robust NMD system. Russian President Putin warns the US that the ABM Treaty bans NMD systems on both sides.

May 1, 2001. In a speech to the National Defense University, President Bush outlines his vision for a national security policy. In the speech, the president advocates an ambitious missile defense and moving beyond the ABM Treaty.

June 2001. The White House FY02 defense budget calls for a 57 percent increase for missile defense, up $3 billion to $8.3 billion.

June 13, 2001. Bush meets NATO leaders. Among the 19 NATO states, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, and Britain publicly signal some approval, to varying degrees, for NMD. France, Germany, and others remain vehemently against Bush's plan, emphasizing the need to strengthen arms control regimes.

June 16, 2001. First Bush-Putin summit in Slovenia. Although a cordial meeting, the two leaders fail to reach concrete agreements on missile defense and the ABM Treaty.

July 14, 2001. The fourth intercept test (IFT-6) of the ground-based midcourse system successfully intercepts a mock warhead. Later reports find that this test, like others before it, was aided by the use of a homing beacon in the mock warhead.

December 3, 2001. In this test (IFT-7) the kill vehicle successfully intercepted the target.  One decoy balloon was used.  This test was a repeat of IFT-6.

January 11, 2002. Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) changes name to Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

March 15, 2002. This successful intercept test (IFT-8) of the ground-based midcourse system included three balloon decoys (one large and two small).  While increasing the number of decoys increased the complexity of this test, the additional balloons did not increase the difficulty of the discrimination task, since their appearance was very different from the warhead.  For a detailed analysis of this test, see the UCS report Decoys and Discrimination in Test IFT-8.  

June, 2002. Ground broken at Fort Greely, Alaska for construction of six missile interceptor silos as a test bed for missile defense system.

December 17, 2002. President Bush announces that he has instructed the Secretary of Defense to begin fielding a ground-based missile defense that would achieve initial operational capabilities in 2004.

October 14, 2002. This successful intercept test (IFT-9) of the Ground-Based Midcourse system used the same decoys as the previous test, but a modified warhead.  The ship-based SPY-1 radar observed the test for the first time, to assess the radar's capacity to track long-range missiles.  For a detailed analysis of the IFT-9 test, see the UCS report The Target Set for Missile Defense Test IFT-9.

December 11, 2002. This intercept test (IFT-10) of the ground-based midcourse system failed because the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) failed to separate from the interceptor and the booster rocket. Note that this is the same failure as that in the IFT-5 (July 8, 2000), detailed above. This was the first IFT performed at night. Previous tests had been conducted in the evening, with the sun illuminating the targets from behind the kill vehicle.  

July 22, 2004. First interceptor installed in silo at Fort Greely, Alaska.

December 15, 2004. This intercept test (IFT-13C) of the ground-based midcourse system failed when the booster carrying the interceptor failed to leave the ground in a launch from Kwajalein atoll. The interceptor was to hit a target coming out of Kodiak, Alaska.

February 13, 2005. This intercept test (IFT-14) was a repeat of the test on December 15, 2004, and the interceptor again failed to leave the silo.

September 1, 2006. In this intercept test (FTG-2) of the ground-based midcourse system the target ballistic missile was successfully intercepted over the Pacific, having been launched from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska and the interceptor from Vandenburg Air Force Base. No decoys were used.

March 21, 2007. The target vehicle in this test was successfully tracked by the Sea-Based X-band (SBX) radar and two Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense ships using onboard SPY-1 radar.

May 25, 2007.  The interceptor for a planned test (FTG-3) of the ground-based midcourse system was never launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base in this test because the target vehicle launched from Kodiak, Alaska fell far short of the designated interceptor range in the Pacific.  

September 28, 2007. In this repeat (FTG-3A) of the May 25, 2007 intercept test of the ground-based midcourse system a target missile launched from Kodiak, Alaska was successfully intercepted by an interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

July 18, 2008. This test of the ground-based midcourse system initially had been planned to be an intercept attempt, but faulty parts in the test interceptor made Missile Defense Agency (MDA) officials opt instead to see how four sensors – the Sea-based X-band radar, the AN/TPY-2 X-band radar temporarily placed in Juneau, Alaska, the Aegis Long-Range Surveillance and Track system, and an upgraded early warning radar in Beale Air Force Base, Calif. – fared in tracking a test target.

December 5, 2008. In this intercept test (FTG-5) of the ground-based midcourse system an interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., intercepted a target launched from Ft. Greely, Alaska. While an intercept did occur, the countermeasures that were used (two balloons) failed to deploy. And even if they had, the decoys were reported by MDA to be "less sophisticated than the countermeasures flown in 2002," so the interceptor would have been less challenged than with decoys in tests six years prior to FTG-5. See the UCS report Missile Defense Test FTG-05.

January 31, 2010. In this intercept test (FTG-6) a target missile was successfully launched from the U.S. Army’s Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Approximately six minutes later, an interceptor was successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Both the target missile and interceptor performed normally after launch. However, the Sea-Based X-band radar did not perform as expected and the interception failed.

June 6, 2010. In this flight test a two-stage Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. After performing flyout maneuvers, the two-stage booster delivered an exoatmospheric kill vehicle to a designated point in space. After separating from the second-stage booster, the kill vehicle executed a variety of maneuvers to collect data to further prove the performance of the kill vehicle in space.

December 15, 2010. In this intercept test (FTG-6A), an intermediate-range ballistic missile target was launched from the Ronald Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and a long-range interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The Sea Based X-Band radar (SBX) and all sensors performed as planned. The missile failed to intercept the target.

January 26, 2013. In this flight test (GM-CTV-01) of a three-stage Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, the three-stage booster deployed the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle to a designated point in space. After separating from the booster, the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle executed a variety of pre-planned maneuvers to collect performance data in space. Engineering data from this test will be used to improve confidence for future intercept missions. This test is the critical first step in returning GMD to successful intercept testing.

July 5, 2013. In this intercept test (FTG-7), a target missile was launched from the U.S. Army’s Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands and a Ground-Based Interceptor missile from its silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The test required an exoatmospheric kill vehicle to separate from the GBI’s upper stage booster and maneuver to a collision course with the target. The kill vehicle failed to separate from the booster. Though the exact cause of the FTG-07 anomaly is not yet known, the EKV has failed to separate from the interceptor and booster on two previous occasions, first in July 2000 and again in December 2002.

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