Zombie killers: SMDC’s low-cost targets save money

By Jason B. Cutshaw


REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT) is turning the old into the new, saving the Army testing funds and providing capabilities by using low-cost targets during missile defense testing—with Zombies.

You read that right. The USASMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center has developed a realistic threat ballistic target called ‘Zombie’ for use in testing the PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement, or PAC-3 (MSE), advanced missile defense systems.

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.

Army missile defense testers looking to save money on ballistic missile targets that can still meet mission requirements, have done just that. SMDC has developed low-cost targets that cut expenses from the approximate $30 million each for high-end targets, to approximately $4 million for SMDC’s low-cost Zombie targets. These savings will allow program managers to stretch their testing budgets and apply funding to where it is needed while reducing the program’s overall testing budget.


A PAC-3 (MSE), advanced missile defense system hits its Zombie target during a recent ballistic missile target test. The USASMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center has 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. (U.S. Army photo)

Making Zombies Fly
SMDC members are using components from legacy systems and reconfiguring them to fly, in modified configurations, as ballistic targets.

“Some of the legacy components are from systems that are referred to as ‘dead components’ or components that are not part of the active program’s future developments,” said Bryon K. Manley, Technical Center flight test services chief. “The ‘rebirth’ of the dead components is where the term Zombie came from. People working this program love this name because of recent pop culture popularity, and even the PATRIOT interceptor program operators have used the name ‘Zombie Killers’ in their documentation. It is a name that people can get behind and get motivated.”

Zombie is an alternative to the high-cost, high-performance, high-fidelity tactical ballistic missile targets historically used in PATRIOT PAC-3 testing, such as the Juno. Zombie is not a replacement for Juno, as Juno is still needed for the occasion when its specific performance capabilities are required.


A Lance missile is launched to provide a low-cost target for the PAC-3 (MSE), advanced missile defense system. The USASMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center has developed the Lance alongside the Zombie as another in its low-cost suite of threat ballistic targets. (U.S. Army photo)

More Will Come
The Zombie idea is one of several low-cost ballistic targets that have been developed and are being developed. The Economical Target-1, the first in a suite of low-cost targets developed, was launched on its first flight in February 2012. Two other developments currently underway, however, add more flexibility and performance at longer ranges.

“When the developments are complete, SMDC will be able to make these low-cost target options at lower than traditional target costs,” Manley said. “The goal is to build huge capabilities at a low cost.

“Lance is another in our low-cost target suite,” he continued. “For less than $500,000 apiece, we are providing eight telemetry configured Lance missiles to get real tactical ballistic missile test articles to exercise a defense system at a fraction of what other targets are normally available in the integrated missile defense community.”

On June 6, a PAC-3 (MSE), missile successfully engaged, intercepted and destroyed a second Zombie low-cost threat-representative target during a flight test at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

“The idea behind our approach is to develop a whole new suite of targets that utilize old rocket motors that the Army has already invested in to develop and have no future planned usage,” Manley said. “We are taking them and retrofitting and reconfiguring them to fly in a manner for which they were not designed.

“From our mission perspective, we are looking for solutions to allow our customers to save money in the target’s arena, so they can increase the amount of testing opportunities and ultimately be successful,” Manley said.

“The SMDC Technical Center is at the forefront of providing the kind of missile defense testing capability to really save the Army a lot of money on its targets,” Manley added.