Recent Congressional hearings on the administration’s plan for deploying advanced missile defenses have raised concerns regarding the ability of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to successfully achieve planned goals. The current plan for the so-called Phased Adaptive Architecture (PAA) is to produce sequential defensive deployments or phases of increasing capability intended to match projected increases in the threat. By 2018, the plan is to deploy an initial capability to counter a possible Iranian or North Korean ICBM. Between now and then MDA needs to produce successive generations of more capable interceptor missiles, based largely on the current successful Standard Missile (SM) 3, upgrade the Navy’s Aegis radar with new hardware and software, transition the combined interceptor-radar system to the land and integrate the Aegis Ashore with other weapons and sensors. That is a lot to do in less than a decade.
The Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee recently conducted hearings on the fiscal 2012 budget request for missile defense. In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman, Representative Mike Turner (R-Ohio) raised a number of serious concerns. There are continuing problems associated with the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), the system deployed in the United States to protect the homeland from rogue ballistic missiles. There are still significant risks associated with the development and deployment of the SM-2 IIA and IIB. The Chairman suggested that MDA funding was stretched thin just meeting known challenges, suggesting that if there were any additional difficulties that critical elements of the PAA could be delayed or even derailed.
One critical concern Congressman Turner addressed was the adequacy of MDA’s hedging strategy, its “Plan B” to deal with technical problems in meeting stressing timeliness for deployment of phases of the PAA or acceleration in the pace of the threat. “Some of us also remain concerned about the Department’s hedging strategy for defense of the homeland in case the long-range threat comes earlier or technical issues arise in the development of a new SM-3 interceptor. I came away from our PAA hearing last December believing that the Department’s hedging strategy was hollow.”
As MDA Director, Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, acknowledged in his testimony to the Subcommittee, meeting the timeline for deployment of the PAA requires the development, testing and deployment of a host of challenging technologies and systems. The agency has its hands full (and its resources expended) just meeting the demands to deploy the current Aegis BMD System and develop and test the follow-on capabilities. These include three advanced more capable interceptors (the SM-3 IA, IB and IIA), the initial elements of the Precision Tracking Space System and infrared sensors aboard unmanned vehicles. When it comes to a true ICBM “killer,” the SM-3 IIB, MDA has just awarded a set of concept development contracts. Some sources believe that this weapon, now not scheduled for initial deployment until 2020, will have to be based on an entirely new missile. If this is the case, MDA will have less than a decade in which to design, develop, test and deploy the SM-3 IIB. To put it mildly, this is a very, very stressing schedule. Moreover, it assumes that everything will go entirely as planned with respect to the deployment of other planned elements of the PAA.
MDA needs to consider additional hedges against a delay in its ability to develop the planned variants of the SM-3 interceptor, particularly the ICBM killer. MDA has yet to demonstrate the viability of the two stage interceptor for the GMD system. Currently, the only alternative path involves the Airborne Laser Test Bed. Hedges, involving alternative configurations for the SM-3 or even different interceptors, should also be considered.
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