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Missile destroyed, hypersonic glider disappears nearby

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Aug. 23, 2011) – Leaders of islands in the fight path of American missile tests are expressing worry about the safety of their atoll and nearby inhabited islands following a missile re-entry vehicle being blown up "northeast" of Kwajalein and a hypersonic glider disappearing on its way to a target near Kwajalein last week.

"It ditched — but where?" asked Kwajalein Sen. Tony deBrum of the Falcon hypersonic glider that is so fast it can reach any point on the globe in one hour.

"We are concerned that with all these ditched and aborted flights our constituencies down range face increasingly significant risk of equipment failure or of tests simply gone awry," said deBrum, who represents the population in parliament that lives next to the U.S. Army’s Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll.

Another Kwajalein senator, Michael Kabua, said that he has received no information directly from the U.S. Army regarding the aborted Minuteman missile test on July 27 or the August 11 Falcon HTV-2 hypersonic glider failure.

"I hope the Marshall Islands government brings this up at the Joint Committee Meeting later this month," deBrum said. The JCM is an annual defense consultation between U.S. and Marshall Islands officials. "What hazard do these shots pose to people down range?" deBrum asked.

Since the mid-1960s, the Pentagon has used Kwajalein’s boomerang-shaped necklace of coral islands as a target for dummy warheads launched on intercontinental ballistic missiles from California. Kwajalein has been at the center of U.S. missile defense programs. About a dozen islands in the atoll are dotted with radar and other missile tracking equipment or missile intercept launch sites.

In a statement released after the July 27 Minuteman missile re-entry vehicle was destroyed in flight after problems developed, the U.S. Air Force said the dummy warhead was destroyed "northeast of Roi-Namur" — an island at the northern tip of Kwajalein Atoll.

"Inhabited islands that are ‘northeast’ of Kwajalein include Likiep, Ailuk, Mejit and Wotje," Kabua said.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency reported that the August 11 Falcon test stopped communicating with mission control 20 minutes into the planned 30-minute flight test to Kwajalein Atoll. This hypersonic glider, an unmanned vehicle designed to deliver a weapons payload to any point on the globe in less than an hour, was reportedly traveling at about 13,000 miles per hour — 20 times the speed of sound. It was the second of two planned flights, both of which stopped communicating and crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

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