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News | July 10, 2020

SMDC team brings another Zombie to life during recent test

By Jason Cutshaw U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command

All one Army team needed to be successful was a Zombie.

The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Technical Center’s Targets Division launched a Pathfinder Zombie target from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, June 25 for a foreign military sales customer. Preliminary reviews show that the Pathfinder Zombie test was successful with the target launching exactly on time and flying within predictions and requirements.

“We had a very successful test,” said Meeda Bosse, the target test director for the Targets Division during the launch. “With every launch we have, we update models and incorporate lessons learned. It is very rewarding as a team to see our process improve with every launch. From ground support all the way to missile flight, each launch is better than the last. With each test we will continue to improve, giving the customer an efficient low-cost target.”

The Pathfinder Zombie is a threat representative single-stage, short-range ballistic missile target that can be used for U.S. weapon system and foreign military sales testing. The first Pathfinder Zombie launch was successfully accomplished at White Sands Missile Range in December 2016, but this recent test was the first time it was used as a target for an intercept by an air and missile defense system.

Bosse said the Zombie program takes old demilitarized Army hardware and gives it a new life as a target. She said the Targets Division uses that hardware at the end of its service live and rebuilds them to make a cost-efficient target missile utilizing state-of-the-art, proven flight qualified components. She said this allows for systems to test at a much lower cost than they would be able to otherwise and it saves the Army and taxpayers money.

“The launch of any Zombie target is important to SMDC and the Army because it offers the ability to test at a much lower cost,” Bosse said. “These targets save the Army money, while still allowing them to test system readiness. This ensures that we can provide the warfighter with the best systems possible.”

 She said the test changed dates several times and that the team integrated this missile almost a year before launch, only to have the test get delayed.

“I believe this test is a great example of the flexibility and reactiveness of our team,” Bosse said. “The team took an unknown situation and reacted to provide a good target that met the needs of the customer. Our goal with a low cost target is to allow the warfighter to test more frequently. This allows them to have the best system possible in the field.”

One team member said the White Sands range supported them and treated the team well.

“The White Sands Missile Range team that supports the SMDC Zombie team always provides great support,” said Cain Crouch, Targets Division aerospace engineer. “The WSMR personnel are experts in their respective fields, and that is demonstrated every time we go to WSMR. Their team has supported us for years and have always gone above and beyond to help SMDC. WSMR is a great government organization to work with, and the Zombie team would not be successful without the support we receive from WSMR.”

Crouch said the team accomplished the mission despite various difficulties.

“It sounds cliché, but we have the best team I've ever worked with,” Crouch said. “Our government and contractor team persevered through ever-changing test dates and a global pandemic to get this missile launched. COVID-19 has created a challenging work environment, but the entire team was professional and flexible as we learned to incorporate disinfecting processes, personal protective equipment and social distancing guidelines into our processes. We were able to complete our mission and maintain the health of our entire team. That is a testament to our team's commitment to our mission.”

Kevin Creekmore, director of the Test Directorate, hailed the team’s success in demonstrating that Zombie targets allow Army missile defense systems to verify new system capabilities in realistic flight tests for both developmental testing and operational testing.

“The success of this target launch shows the resilience and flexibility of the team,” Creekmore said. “After multiple schedule delays and during a historic pandemic, we were able to adapt to reduced manning and many new processes to ensure the safety of the team to launch on time and meet all performance requirements. The entire government and contractor team worked extremely hard to achieve mission success for the warfighter.”