SMDC has High Hopes for Low-cost Launcher


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In times of continuing budgetary constraints, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, or USASMDC/ARSTRAT, is saving the taxpayers by not only designing low-cost targets, but also by designing low-cost launch vehicles.

Members of the USASMDC/ARSTRAT Test Execution Support Division developed a transportable, mission-configurable, 25,000 pounds-capacity Transportable Target Launcher, or 25K TTL, to support Department of Defense operational testing of theater-class tactical ballistic missile targets.

"The 25K TTL is a rapidly deployable (C-17 and C-5 transportable), treaty-compliant rail launch platform for theater-class tactical ballistic missile targets," said Bryon Manley, SMDC Technical Center Test Execution Support Division chief. "The 25K TTL is a cost effective, transportable launcher that can expand the number of available launch sites adding a more comprehensive selection of threat scenario geometries for tactical ballistic missile target testing on national ranges."

SMDC developed two 25K TTLs, at a cost of approximately $3 million, that are rapidly deployable. They were designed, analyzed, built and tested using a modified commercial off-the-shelf semitrailer and hydraulic crane as a portable launch platform.

"Our division is about low cost so we design things based on commercially off-the-shelf available items so that they are cost effective," said Stephanie Chrisley, SMDC general engineer.

Utilization of the TTL is a cost-effective means of presenting test scenarios in a threat representative construct due to its ability to operate at both unimproved and improved range sites. Additionally, the launcher is transportable by air or land, permitting use at all ranges. The missile launcher can begin operating within 15 minutes of setting up.

"We can take it onto an unimproved launch site with one generator and a small crew and we launch ballistic missile targets with no problem," Chrisley said.

The TTL, which can hold a missile up to 48 feet long and handle up to 73,000 pounds of rocket thrust, is undergoing inspections before returning to the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane in Indiana for maintenance prior to future test missions.

"We brought it out of storage to have it inspected because we will be using it for a flight test in the spring of 2016," Chrisley said.

The 25K TTL is capable of being transported to a launch site, converted to a fixed installation before target loading and launch, reconfigured for transport after launch, and returned to storage, or emplaced for a follow-on mission.

"This gives us the flexibility to launch in any area we want that does not necessarily have to be an improved area, it can be any open area where we can set it up with a small crew," said Kevin Creekmore, Test Execution Support Division acting director. "It does not need existing power, it does not need existing communication lines and it does not need existing infrastructure. It gives us the flexibility to launch at just about any angle that we want using the adjustable boom.

"We use it to support many different tests for many different customers," he added. "We have several tests upcoming in the next few years.

SMDC has also developed targets to be launched by the TTLs. Made from existing materials, the program was named Zombie. Zombie uses government-owned material components that have reached the end of their useful lives and are subject to consideration for demilitarization. Using this government hardware instead of demilitarizing it ultimately saves taxpayer dollars.

The command developed the Zombie targets that cut expenses from the approximate $30 million each for high-end targets, to approximately $4 million for SMDC's low-cost Zombie.

"We look for unused rocket motors or some that are going to be demilitarized and just thrown away. The motors are generally still good so we try to repurpose those with new avionics and new front end sections and launch them as low-cost targets," Chrisley said.

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