According to a recently published white paper, the Air Force believes that it faces a growing asymmetric disadvantage against the growing ballistic missile threat. Based on the 2008 Unified Engagement joint war game, the white paper went on to state that “In future fights there will not be enough air defense assets to cover all our needs even against a moderately developed adversary.” Yet, the Obama Administration has cancelled programs and reduced spending on missile defenses.
There is a relatively inexpensive near-term solution. It is called Air Launched Hit-To-Kill (ALHTK). ALHTK would deploy a kinetic interceptor on existing airframes, primarily fighter aircraft. Because it would rely largely on existing missile components, launch platforms, sensors and command and control systems, an ALHTK system would be available quite soon and at relatively low cost.
One of the more interesting concepts for ALHTK goes by the less-than-felicitous name of the Network-Centric Air Defense Element (NCADE). This is an interceptor system based on the existing Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile. It would have modified sensors to detect and home in on ballistic missiles and a warhead that is derived from the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3), already being supplied to the U.S. Navy. Not only would the NCADE be able to intercept ballistic missiles in the boost/ascent phase, it could also engage reentry vehicles as part of a terminal defense. Because the SM-3 based kill vehicle has special diver motors to enable it to close in on the warhead, the NCADE could also be employed against advanced maneuvering reentry vehicles or MaRVs, the kind of warhead being deployed by the People’s Republic of China to threaten U.S. aircraft carriers.
Because it is carried on fighter aircraft, ALHTK can be deployed against ballistic missiles throughout most of their flight trajectories. If the aircraft is operating over enemy territory, the ALHTK will be in the vicinity of the ballistic missile launch sites. Thus, an ALHTK interceptor would be able to engage a ballistic missile early, in the boost and ascent phases. If providing protection for friendly territory or forces, the ALHTK-armed aircraft can support terminal defenses.
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