Defense Department News

Strong Missile Shield Protects U.S., Allies

Jan. 17, 2019 | BY David Vergun

President Donald J. Trump, Vice President Michael R. Pence and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan announced the release of the 2019 Missile Defense Review today at the Pentagon. The MDR is the last of four strategic guidance documents that Trump directed the national security establishment to create to better guide decision-making on critical defense policy issues.

The MDR is essentially a policy framework that emphasizes the priority of protection for the nation against emerging and future rogue states' missile threats, and calls for robust regional missile defense for U.S. forces abroad and allies and partners against all potential adversaries.

For a number of years now, potential adversaries like Iran and North Korea, have been developing and testing new missiles, such as advanced cruise missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons, while the U.S. has lagged in enhancing its own missile defense systems.

The MDR addresses those threats. To counter a potential threat from North Korea, it will strengthen the defense of the nation against the ICBMs they’ve developed. Trump has directed a 50 percent increase in homeland defense interceptors — from 44 to 64 — and supporting radars. These interceptors can also defend the homeland against an Iranian ICBM threat should it materialize.

The MDR also seeks to counter the regional missile threat to U.S. and ally forces posed by Russia and China's increasing number and types of short, medium and intermediate- range missiles, to include hypersonic and advanced cruise missiles. The review calls for a layered approach that includes integrated air and missile defense, cooperation with allies, increased numbers of missile defense interceptors, and new technologies for intercepting advanced threats.

To ensure that the U.S. stays ahead of these threats, the MDR calls for pursuing advanced technologies and innovative concepts. Priority is given to space-based sensors to track missile threats and an emphasis is placed on intercepting missiles in the boost phase — just after launch — and utilizing directed energy weapons on unmanned aerial vehicles and modified air-to-air missiles carried by fighter aircraft.

Evolving Threat Environment

The current security environment is challenged by states such as North Korea and Iran, who are modernizing and expanding their offensive missile capabilities.

While a possible new avenue to peace with North Korea now exists, North Korea’s capabilities continue to pose a significant threat to the United States and its allies. Over the past decade, North Korea, in addition to a vigorous nuclear testing program, worked aggressively to develop nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that can reach the continental U.S. as well as its allies and partners.

Additionally, Iran possesses the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East and is modernizing and extending the range of its ballistic missile systems.

China and Russia are carrying out military modernization programs to increase the capabilities of their existing missile systems while adding new and sophisticated types of missiles to their arsenals, including hypersonic weapons and advanced cruise missiles.

Missile Defense Roles, Policy, Strategy

To address these evolving challenges to national security, the Defense Department is taking a comprehensive approach to prevent and defeat adversary missile attacks through a combination of deterrence, active and passive missile defense and offensive operations.

Within this framework a number of key policy principles will shape missile defense capability and posture:

— Develop and field missile defenses to stay ahead of the projected missile threats to the homeland from states such as North Korea and Iran.

— Rely on nuclear deterrence to address the large and sophisticated Russian and Chinese intercontinental missile capabilities.

— Missile defenses will continue to defend U.S. forces deployed abroad and support the security of allies and partners.

— Work with allies and partners to help them better defend themselves against the full range of regional missile threats from any potential missile armed adversary.

— Pursue new missile defense concepts and advanced technologies — including disruptive capabilities such as boost phase intercept — to address the pace and scope of evolving missile threats.

U.S. Missile Defense Programs and Capabilities

The MDR framework ensures that capabilities flow from policy to counter these threats, and the first priority remains to deploy a layered missile defense system to protect the U.S. and stay ahead of the rogue state ICBM threats.

Today, the U.S. is protected against the threat of a rogue state ICBM attack by the ground-based midcourse defense interceptors based in Alaska and California. The review calls for a number of improvements to the GMD system. These include:

— Expanding the GMD system with 20 additional GBI in Alaska, bringing the total to 64 fielded interceptors;

— Developing a new kill vehicle for the GBI;

— Improving the performance of existing sensors and deploying new missile tracking and discrimination sensors in Alaska and Hawaii; and

— Fielding a new space-based kill assessment capability.

To address the regional offensive missile threat the MDR focuses on:

— Strengthening regional missile defense posture through the deployment of additional Patriot, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and Aegis interceptor systems;

— Fielding mobile and relocatable missile defense capabilities to provide the flexibility to respond to evolving crises or conflicts;

— Improving the integration of regional ballistic missile and cruise missile defenses with offensive operations.

— Enhancing the interoperability of U.S. missile defenses with allies and partners to increase the overall effectiveness of collective capabilities.

In the future, DOD plans on improving missile defense capability on a number of fronts, including the development of space-based sensors and exploring options involving laser technology.

The Bottom Line

DOD looks to meet the growing risks and dangers from missile threats through a balanced and integrated approach that combines deterrence, active and passive missile defense, and offensive operations if, and only if, deterrence fails.

By doing so, DOD will meet the president’s guidance to strengthen its ability to protect the nation, enhance deterrence, protect and assure allies and partners and hedge against future threats.