After US Army rockets finish their useful lives, an increasing number of them are being given a second life - but it is an unnatural life, one in which their sole purpose is to be killed for practice. That’s right, these are zombie missiles!
The real story is far less scary, however: the US Army is saving a ton of money by reusing old rocket motors to power target missiles for use in tests and demonstrations instead of buying new ones to blow up, according to a report by Defense News.
The Army first tested the idea of using rocket engines nearing the end of their lives to power target rockets in 2016, when it tested a short-range ballistic missile called the Zombie Pathfinder using surplus MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles.
Subsequent tests have also developed a short-range Sabre Zombie missile as well as a longer-range Black Dagger Zombie/Boosted Zombie Target (BZT), in which the first stage of a Terrier sounding rocket is added to test targeting two-stage rockets.
“It has been a tremendous boon for us to be able to provide a more affordable, effective target,” Thomas Webber, director of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command Technical Center, said at a recent defense symposium. “We can turn these around pretty quickly and support those operational test events.”
According to Webber, the Army saves up to 50% on costs by reusing the old rockets instead of buying new ones.
The missiles can mimic targets for the Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-air missile systems used by the US Army, such as the Pathfinder Zombie used at New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range in June to test a Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) system for a potential buyer, which might have been Taiwan.
According to Defense News, zombie missiles will also be used in upcoming tests of the proposed Lower-Tier Air-Defense Sensor, part of the system that could eventually replace the Patriots, as well as in the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) tests now underway at White Sands.