WASHINGTON, April 14, 2016 —
Escalating threats from North Korea and Iran, including aggressive ballistic missile testing, is pushing the Missile Defense Agency to find increasingly more cost-effective ways to perform its mission, MDA Director Navy Vice Adm. James D. Syring said here yesterday.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on the agency’s $7.5 billion fiscal year 2017 budget request, Syring said the agency needs current and future funding for technology demonstrations and prototypes of advanced technology, among other activities.
But, he told the panel, “the programs we have in development today and will be fielding between now and 2020 are adequately funded.”
Ballistic Missile Defense
Overall, MDA is developing, testing and deploying a system designed to counter ballistic missile threats of all ranges -- short, medium, intermediate and long.
The ballistic missile defense, or BMD, system includes many integrated elements in a layered architecture that offers several ways to destroy incoming missiles and warheads before they reach their targets. The architecture includes:
-- Networked sensors and ground- and sea-based radars for detecting and tracking targets.
-- Ground- and sea-based interceptor missiles that can destroy a ballistic missile using the force of a direct collision, called “hit-to-kill” technology. A critical ground-based interceptor, or GBI, component called the exo-atmospheric kill vehicle uses this technology. An explosive blast fragmentation warhead also can destroy ballistic missiles.
-- A command and control, battle management and communications network that gives operational commanders links between sensors and interceptor missiles.
New Start Programs
The missile defense system’s ground-based midcourse defense, or GMD, element uses integrated communications networks, fire-control systems, globally deployed sensors, and GBIs that can detect, track and destroy incoming ballistic missiles.
Over the past three years, Syring said, Congress has funded four new programs for the agency -- a new kill vehicle, GMD reliability improvements, a long-range discrimination radar, or LRDR, to be based in Alaska, and discrimination efforts -- so the system can tell the difference between real targets and things like decoys and countermeasures.
According to the MDA budget document, the redesigned kill vehicle will increase performance to address the evolving threat, improve in-flight communications to better use off-board sensor data, and enhance combatant commanders’ situational awareness through hit and kill assessment messages.
The LRDR is a mid-course tracking radar for persistent sensor coverage and better discrimination capabilities against threats to the United States from the Pacific theater.
Strategy of Improvement
Syring called the LRDR and the new kill vehicle a key part of MDA’s strategy of improvement by 2020.
North Korea’s “last Taepodong-2 [ballistic missile] flight test at the end of 2012 -- and then revalidation in February -- underscores the importance of not just the GMD system, but the long-range discrimination radar in particular [because] there is a clear intent to continue to pursue ICBM road-mobile technology by North Korea,” Syring told the panel.
“Our system today is designed to counter that if [North Korea] tests and then improves the capability to make this even more complex in the future with decoys and countermeasures,” he noted, adding, “We need the radar in Alaska to help defeat that threat … and everything that was done to the radar … in 2020 is against that very contingency.”
LRDR construction will begin in Alaska in FY 2017, Syring said, and the agency is moving forward with the redesigned kill-vehicle program to improve the system’s reliability, and GBI upgrades and placements remain on track to reach 44 interceptors by the end of 2017.
Also in 2017, he said, the agency will conduct two intercept flight tests to fully demonstrate GMD system performance against intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Regional Missile Defense
On the topic of regional missile defense forces that are interoperable with systems deployed by international partners, Syring said MDA will continue to enhance the capability of the Aegis ballistic missile defense weapon system and deliver more U.S. standard missile 3-Block-1B guided missiles.
Syring has called the Aegis program one of the most adaptable and critical to U.S. and allied defense, and the program seeks to have 43 such ships by fiscal 2019.
“Our plans include maintaining support for the operational readiness of the Romania Aegis Ashore site we delivered to the warfighter in December 2015. We also remain on track to deliver the Aegis Ashore site in Poland by the end of 2018 to improve European NATO defenses against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles,” he said.
Aegis Ashore is part of the phased adaptive approach, or PAA, for phase II and III of European missile defense. In 2015, Aegis Ashore was installed in Romania as part of PAA phase II to provide ballistic missile coverage of Southern Europe. In 2018, Aegis Ashore will be installed in Poland as part of PAA phase III to support defense of Northern Europe, according to the MDA website.
Another priority, Syring told the panel, includes advancing research into directed-energy capabilities.
“Today we are focused on directed energy, which I believe is a potential game changer. Our work on laser scaling to achieve greater efficiency and lighter weight will enable a low-power laser demonstration in 2021 to determine the feasibility of destroying enemy missiles in the boost phase of flight,” he said.
A directed-energy capability will make missile defense in a layered system more effective and less costly, Syring added.
“In the past, we've had MIT and Livermore Lab gainfully engaged in reducing risk with the technology for directed energy, specifically solid-state laser technology. They've done some great work that has … enabled some of the contractors that are now leaning in on directed energy with the services, and expanding …our thinking to what can be done with the missile defense mission,” he noted.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)