US Army’s cheap ‘Zombie’ Missile Targets built from Recycled Rocket Parts

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The U.S. Army has built seven units of what it calls “Zombie” missile targets by recycling used or old rocket engines in order to save half the money it would have spent on test rockets.

“These test missiles are called ‘Zombies’ and save the Army from having to destroy old boosters, giving them a new life,” Thomas Webber, director of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command Technical Center, said during the Defense News Space and Missile Defense Symposium Debrief event on August 5.

The seven targets are of three variants: Pathfinder Zombie; the Black Dagger Zombie that adds an additional booster — the Terrier MK70 — for longer ranges; and Sabre, a shorter-range version.

“A zombie was the target used in a recent critical test showing the Patriot system could be interoperable with the Army’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD),” Webber stated.

Next month, a Black Dagger will be used during the Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense (IAMD)  Battle Command System limited-user test coming up next month.

Weber added that the effort started several years ago when the Army’s Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, and the Patriot air and missile defense lower-tier product office began spending “a lot” of money on buying new targets after running out of stock.

Soon, a “significantly cheaper” solution of using recycled motors reaching the end of operational life, which are accurately representative of ballistic missile threats, was proposed. These would be appropriate for both developmental and operational missile tests, the Defense News report said.

Following a demonstration at the end of 2016, the zombies have taken off. “We’ve been very successful,” Webber said. Since then, the program has expanded, providing targets not only for Patriot testing, but also the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and foreign military sales (FMS) test events.