Missiles: Pass or Fail?
July 7, 2006 11:38 AM   Subscribe

How would a country determine the success or failure of a missile test?

Exploding ordinance is one thing. If it blows up pretty, you're on the right track. What about a launch? We keep hearing about how NoKo's Taepodong barely lasted a minute before disintegrating. So we assume that was a failure.

But really ... you can't very well lob a rocket into another country's air-space without getting in serious trouble, can you? Do you just measure the trajectory and guesstimate the rest?
posted by grabbingsand to Law & Government (6 answers total)
North Korea has actually fired missiles over Japan before.
posted by smackfu at 11:41 AM on July 7, 2006

Success is measured by how well the missile did what it was intended to do. If the test is set up so that the missile is supposed to fly 5 miles downrange and then plunge earthward, the test is successful if the missile does just that.

If the missile were to fly six times around the world and then land intact back on its pad, the test would be a failure because that's not what it was supposed to do.

Yes, you can measure the trajectory and have a good basis for assumption of performance. However, there will still have to be tests of the other (mid-course, terminal) phases of flight in addition to the boost phase before you could consider your missile to be proven.
posted by forrest at 12:07 PM on July 7, 2006

You can choose a target in the middle of the ocean (middle of nowhere) and judge accuracy. You could preplan a flight profile (alititude, speed, acceleration, etc) and compare the telemetry. You could also base your success criteria on how much it scares a superpower based on news media reports.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:07 PM on July 7, 2006

It seems that the North Koreans followed up their rocket failure with targeted strikes by their reliable missles to the same location to appear as if it was the original destination of the missle to begin with. AkA it wasn't a malfunction, it was a success!

That said, as Smackfu pointed out, the last time they tested a missile they sent it over Japan. It caused quite a discern. One would expect when testing a long range missile to send it...long range.
posted by Atreides at 12:08 PM on July 7, 2006

Did other countries react in a way the raised our international power status - power of intimidation or other such reaction? If so I think the test was a success even if the missile fell out of the sky and did absolutely nothing.
posted by crewshell at 1:53 PM on July 7, 2006

In our arsenal, we have a lot of conventional and nuclear missiles that have a variety of use scenarios. These range from short range air-to-air missiles all the way to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The stuff you are referring to is the developmental test firing of a missile in design, such as what the North Koreans just did.

During the development phases, certain tests are performed along the way to establish their functions, which involve more than whether they hit a target. They have to hit the INTENDED target, and in reality, they don't usually have to HIT it. These tests are called qualification tests, and they establish that the missile meets specs. Usually,qual tests are only done in development or during significant design changes. Abbreviated forms of them are called 'acceptance tests' and they involve routine production testing.

After deployment, there are normally what are called 'in-service reviews' to periodically verify that they do what they were designed to do. This applies to all the little missiles and sometimes the big mothers. Most peple don't know it, but evey single carrier take off and landing is filmed, and every time a piece of big ordinance, like a missile, is shot, it is rated and evaluated and is the source of future product improvement.

There is a lot of stuff to test on a missile. For instance, motor initiation, propulsion, guidance, terminal guidance, war head performance, stability, range safety (i.e., commanded self destruction). If the missile interacts with other systems, verification involves them, too.

A missile test isn't just 'light the fuse and see what happens. It's a fairly complicated thing, usually involving a specific set of test objectives. We have missile test ranges all over the country and there are designated missile ranges in various oceans around the globe, too.

Usually, there is a target, and always there is telemetry which is either from ground/space based tracking, or missile-transmitted data. The whole thing is choreographed to get as much data as possible for future analysis, in order to answer the question 'Does it do what we think it does'.

Most ICBM launches in the US are done out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and are aimed at Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific.

If you'd like more info, email. I could write on this all day.
posted by FauxScot at 3:08 PM on July 7, 2006

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