Ground Based Mid-Course Defense, GMD for short. It's a complicated name for a complex system that helps protect Americans. "The mission is to keep that long-range ballistic missile from impacting our nation," says Norm Tew, the GMD Program Director for Boeing, the program's prime contractor.
No matter where in the world an enemy missile might launch, GMD interceptors based either at Fort Greeley, Alaska, or Vandenberg Air Force Base in California are expected to kill it. "We don't want it to ever be used, but if it's called on, it's gotta work," says Norm Tew.
The responsibility on the contractor side is headquartered in a relatively unimposing office building. Inside there are plenty of pictures of GMD launches and plenty of signs describing the mission that make it clear, the program has a huge responsibility. "It's a daunting task as you can imagine, as well as humbling," says Norm Tew. Norm has been with the program since President George W. Bush promised an intercontinental ballistic missile defense system would be working by the end of 2004. That was just two years after the promise was made, and it was definitely a tough proposition. "That was actually the thought, can you really do this? I can say, sitting here today, not only can we do this. We do it almost routinely," says Norm.
In fact the GMD system has had nine successful test. Tests that begin with the launch of a target missile from thousands of miles away. Sensors in 15 time zones pick up the target launch. A determination is made about the threat, and then the GMD interceptor is launched. It travels thousands of miles, with sensors homing in on the enemy warhead. It's tough because there is debris and even dummy warheads involved. Once the sensors figure out the real target, it's destroyed by a 20-thousand mile an hour impact. It's referred to as hit to kill. It happens in space, which is mid-course for an intercontinental missile. From launch to intercept the entire mission only takes about 20 minutes.
The technicians who handle the interceptors are trained at Boeing's facility in Huntsville. Obviously there's a lot to know about the complex program that includes more than 3,000 civilian and military personnel. It's likely they all share Norm Tew's feeling. "We have successfully tested this thing on the ground, and in a flight environment. It works. It will defend this country," says GMD Program Director, Norm Tew.