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ASD Space Policy Remarks for the 16th Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Conference "Missile Defense in an Era of Strategic Competition"


Thank you, Col. Lawson, for that introduction, and thank you to the Missile Defense Agency for the invitation to address you at this important conference.

Just over two years ago, I started my second tour at the Pentagon when I was confirmed as the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy. 

Despite the name, my office covers a suite of strategic capabilities essential to integrated deterrence. I am the policy lead for space warfighting, nuclear deterrence, countering weapons of mass destruction, and, yes, missile defense.

Now missile defense is near and dear to my heart. During the Obama administration, I was an integral part of the 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) at the Pentagon. I was the OSD lead of the EPAA and missile defense of NATO. And I later served as the missile defense lead at the National Security Council in #DEFENSE.

Back then, our primary focus was on ballistic missile defense.

But as we all saw in the Middle East over the weekend, things have changed dramatically in the last decade and a half. The security environment has degraded. The technologies have accelerated. And the threats we face have changed accordingly. 

Today, we are dealing with a range of sophisticated offensive technologies like advanced cruise and hypersonic missiles as well as other threats like uncrewed aerial systems—drones—from both state and non-state actors.

Offensive missile tactics have also evolved and now include a wide range of platforms, speeds, distances, and attack vectors that are more easily concealed and are more evasive. And because the value of maneuvering vehicles is widely understood by militaries, very few missiles are truly ballistic anymore. 

Over this past weekend, we saw this dynamic threat picture on full display. Iran's multilayered aerial assault against Israel leveraged more than 300 individual projectiles. The combined air and missile defenses of Israel, the United States, and other allies and partners met this threat head on and demonstrated the truly remarkable achievements of our air and missile defense technologies and tactics, as well as the truly remarkable power of cooperating with allies and partners. 

At the same time, the events of this weekend underscored some of the pitfalls associated with our heavy focus on interceptor-based systems. Systems that shoot multi-million dollar interceptors at $50,000 drones.

So this morning, I'd like to talk to you about today's threat picture, what it means for our missile defense strategy, and where I believe we need to go. 

Reinforcing Threats from Strategic Competitors 

Let's look first at our strategic competitors. 

The People's Republic of China (PRC) and Russia continue to modernize, diversify, and expand their nuclear arsenals while deploying space and counterspace capabilities to hold our forces at risk.

They are also fielding more advanced offensive missiles—ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic—in greater numbers to not only deter involvement in a regional conflict but also to directly target the U.S. homeland.

The scale and scope of these multi-dimensional threats present significant risks to the American people and the homeland, U.S. national interests, our deployed forces, and our allies and partners.

But the activities of the PRC and Russia are not the only two threats.

North Korea and Iran also continue to seek to disrupt the rules-based international order to suit their interests.

The dangers posed by the collective offensive air and missile capabilities of all these competitors are not hypothetical; they are playing out in plain view, in a way that is new.

These regimes are increasingly sharing resources, knowledge, and technology to expand their offensive air and missile capabilities and inventories. 

Look at Ukraine as an example. Iran, which possesses the largest missile program in the Middle East, is actively supplying Russia with armed drones to carry out attacks in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russia-and North Korea are cooperating to, in their own words, increase munitions production and stockpiles while sharing technological know-how.

North Korea has provided Russia with ballistic missiles to employ in its brutal war against Ukraine.

So Russia is attacking Ukraine with drones from Iran and missiles from North Korea.

Benefits of Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) 

This is where the urgent need for integrated air and missile defense—or IAMD—comes in.

When deterrence fails, the United States and our allies and partners need robust IAMD options to protect and defend our interests and manage escalation. 

Robust air and missile defense capabilities undermine adversary confidence by raising the threshold for conflict and introducing complexity into attack planning.

Air and missile defense systems also offer a visible form of deterrence, reinforcing our diplomatic and security posture while reassuring allies and partners that the United States will fulfill its global security commitments.

Missile Defense of the U.S. Homeland against PRC and Russia 

Let's turn to the role of missile defense as it relates to the Department's number one defense priority: protection of the U.S. homeland.

I will remind everyone here that while the United States will of course defend itself against missile attacks emanating from any source, it is  longstanding U.S. policy to address large, intercontinental-range nuclear threats from the PRC and Russia through strategic deterrence—not missile defense.

While this policy has been in place for more than a half century—since the Cold War—it bears repeating because the PRC and Russia routinely suggest that U.S. homeland missile defenses are able to thwart their advanced nuclear strike capabilities and therefore undermine strategic stability.

This assertion is false.

The size and sophistication of the PRC and Russia's nuclear arsenals preclude any such possibility.

Missile Defense of the U.S. Homeland against DPRK and Iran

Instead, our Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is designed to protect the homeland – including Hawaii and Alaska – against ICBM threats from the DPRK (and potentially Iran, if it were to develop this capability).

We are constantly improving and upgrading the performance of our GMD system.

To this end, the DoD is currently developing the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI), a modern fleet of advanced interceptors to augment our existing fleet of Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI).

We expect the first NGI to be emplaced in Alaska by 2028.

Air and Missile Defense of the U.S. Homeland against Cruise Missile Threats 

In terms of air and cruise missile defense of the U.S. Homeland, the Department has recognized that as conventional, non-nuclear missile technology by the PRC and Russia becomes more sophisticated, the speed and distance that cruise and other types of missiles can travel has expanded significantly.

These increased ranges are blurring previously clear delineations between regional and homeland missile defense, exposing seams in IAMD architectures.

Advances in conventional missile technologies are also forcing the United States to confront a harsh new realization: the continental United States no longer possesses the inherent sanctuary of geography it has historically enjoyed.

In the near-term, the Department is taking defensive measures to deal with air and cruise missile threats to the Homeland, such as over-the-horizon radars and cloud-based command systems that will improve our ability to detect and respond to long-range conventional threats.

Longer-term, the Department is engaged in a comprehensive study of the issue that will inform out-year investments on this important issue.

Missile Defense of Guam 

Farther away from the continental United States, offensive missile threats in the Indo-Pacific have forced us to take a closer look at our Pacific posture, especially the defense of Guam.

As a U.S. territory, Guam is both an unequivocal part of the United States as well as a key operational hub in the Pacific.

Any attack on Guam would be considered a sovereign attack against the United States and met with an appropriate response.
We are in the process of actively strengthening Guam's defenses which will include a variety of capabilities including the fielding of a persistent and layered IAMD architecture.

IAMD in Ukraine and Israel 

In regional hotspots like Ukraine and Israel, air and missile defense systems have proven to be indispensable, life-saving assets: defending military forces, civilian populations, and critical infrastructure against unprovoked terror and aggression.

Cooperatively, the United States and our allies and partners have helped Ukraine knit together an eclectic mix of donated ex-Soviet and Western air and missile defense systems and munitions.

Against the odds, despite having few resources and even less production capacity, Ukraine has been able to make the most of its patchwork inventory to create an interoperable air and missile defense network that has so far effectively thwarted Russia's goal of air dominance.

Ukraine's resilience has enabled the country to quite literally preserve its freedom and sovereignty despite Moscow's onslaught.

There are many lessons to be learned from Ukraine's IAMD adaptations. 

Ukrainian defenders have frequently been forced to operate not with expensive high-tech interceptors as we would envision, but with a set of low-signature, low-cost, distributed, ruggedized, and rapidly mobile systems.

The Ukrainians have also employed new tactics such as using IAMD systems to hunt Russian strike aircraft.

In many ways, Ukraine's dire need and the crucible of war have resulted in unprecedented innovations in the air and missile defense realm, and they have developed ground-breaking air defense technologies akin to a Silicon Valley start-up ecosystem. We must learn from their innovation.

Moving to the Middle East, this weekend's events showed that air and missile defense interceptor-based systems are highly effective tools against regional air and missile-based threats coming from multiple directions.

Robust air and missile defenses have provided Israel an ability to pause and strategically consider its next steps against Iran, rather than rush into a reactive response with potentially unintended consequences. This is a remarkable thing—and it is worth every penny if it prevents a wider war. 

However, even before this weekend, Israel had already been forced to use all of its IAMD platforms – Arrow, David's Sling, and Iron Dome – to defend its people and territory against rocket, mortar, and missile attacks launched by Iran-aligned groups such as Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen.

In short: Air and missile defense support to both Ukraine and Israel are critical to U.S. national security interests.

Funding these and other key priorities is why the Department continues to advocate strongly for Congress to pass the Administration's FY 2024 budgetary supplemental. It is long overdue. And we have reached the point where every additional day of delay has consequences—not just for Ukraine, not just for Israel, but also for American and our standing around the world. 

Limitations of Interceptor-Based Solutions 

Despite its importance, and its incredible performance over the weekend, I don't want to leave you with the impression that IAMD systems are a silver bullet against every type of sophisticated adversary threat.

Relying solely on traditional air and missile defense systems – with a limited number of interceptors, guided by large, detectable radars in closed fire control systems – can no longer be the only response against the array of technologically sophisticated offensive air and missile systems threatening U.S. interests.

Fixed air and missile defenses are finite in quantity and can be vulnerable to being numerically overwhelmed in barrage-style attacks.

And the offense-defense cost curve doesn't line up efficiently in most cases—especially when we end up firing disproportionately expensive interceptors at cheap, off-the-shelf technology such as drones or Katusha rockets.

Supplementary Approaches to Interceptor-Based IAMD 

IAMD is only one piece of the puzzle; we must think differently about this problem set.

Let me outline four imperatives that have been driving me and my team, and frankly the Department: balancing offense and defense; rapid innovation; comprehensive missile defeat; and close engagement with allies and partners. 

#1 - Balanced Offense-Defense Approaches 

First, we must recognize that a balanced offense-defense approach is an essential complement to stand-alone IAMD capabilities.

Deterrence-by-denial strategies are most effective when complemented by cost imposition elements such as counterstrike.

Offensive measures add credibility to our defensive efforts and reduce the possibility of continued attacks.

This is why, for example, we have also needed to conduct strikes against Houthi offensive missile targets in Yemen taking aim at Red Sea ship traffic.

#2 – Rapid Innovation in Future Technologies 

Second, rapid innovation in future technologies to cope with emerging threats and to operate in new domains is – and will continue to be – an IAMD imperative.

We no longer have the luxury to spend and develop counter-missile capabilities at a gradual pace, as we have in the past.

This means investments in novel areas such as directed energy, space-based missile warning and tracking, and hypersonic defense.

For instance, DoD is conducting directed energy research, development, and operational experimentation focused on high-energy lasers and high-powered microwave weapons. Both of these capabilities offer cost-effective defeat options for threats ranging from small drones to highly-maneuverable missiles. 

The Department is also keeping busy on space-based sensors.
Just two months ago, in February 2024, the Space Development Agency (SDA) and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully launched demonstration capabilities that will eventually be part of a larger, proliferated space-based architecture against hypersonic weapons and other advanced threats.

The space domain is intrinsically linked to missile defense in terms of missile warning, tracking, and detection, and is an area with significant technological growth ahead.

On regional hypersonic defense, the Department is currently engaged in the development of a future capability called the Glide Phase Interceptor, or GPI.

GPI will be a sea-based capability designed to engage offensive threats in the “glide” portion of a hypersonic flight trajectory--or between the midcourse and terminal phases.

GPI will supplement the Sea-Based Terminal defense capability to provide a maritime layered defense against regional hypersonic threats.

As announced by the White House during the recent state visit of the Japanese Prime Minister, we are working closely with the Government of Japan to co-develop GPI, a top priority to which Japan will allocate over $1 billion.

#3 – Comprehensive Missile Defeat 

Third, in addition to interceptor-based approaches, we need to employ alternative strategies including comprehensive missile defeat, a concept highlighted in the 2022 MDR.

What exactly does “comprehensive missile defeat” mean?

It is a full-spectrum approach to prevent and defeat adversary missiles in all domains and along all timelines through a mix of kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities such as passive defense and electronic warfare.

Speaking more plainly, it's any and all left-of-launch and right-of-launch means to stop an adversary from successfully using its growing array of offensive missiles.

#4 – Close Engagement with Allies and Partners 

Fourth, the U.S. cannot go it alone on IAMD – we will need strengthened cooperation and support from our closest friends around the world.

The importance of allies and partners for IAMD was on full display this past weekend. Israel was successful in defending against Iran's multi-layered aerial assault not only because of their innovative missile defense technologies but because of the support of the United States and others.

That is why IAMD-related engagement with international allies and partners is a priority for the Department, and we are fortunate that these ties are robust and continue to grow.

Building our collective IAMD efforts strengthens our common protection, enhances extended deterrence, and provides assurances essential to the cohesion of our alliances and partnerships against regional missile threats, coercion and attacks.


In closing, we have come a long way in the last 15 years on missile defense policy. The threat is dynamic, and our approach must evolve with it. If you have one single takeaway from my speech this morning, let it be this: 

Integrated air and missile defense is here to stay. It is an essential part of 21st century deterrence and 21st century warfare. We need to make IAMD more cost efficient, and we need to do it at scale. But it has never been more critical, and there is no time to waste.

Thank you.