Missile Defense Agency Head Syring on North Korean Nuclear Tests

January 19, 2016 5:13 PM
Vice Adm. James Syring briefing at the Pentagon. DoD Photo
Vice Adm. James Syring briefing at the Pentagon. DoD Photo

While terming North Korea’s most recent nuclear tests “alarming and provoking,” the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said he doesn’t believe they show any increase in Pyongyang’s technical capabilities.

Speaking Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think-tank, Vice Adm. James Syring said the United States’ ballistic missile defense (BMD) posture is unchanged for now. The agency will, however, “continue to watch it closely and continue to watch [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s] actions with scrutiny.”

He added in answer to a question on the North Korean tests: “I believe we are absolutely on the right path to stay ahead of that threat.”

In answer to another question about agency priorities, Syring said the Redesigned Kill Vehicle is “the necessary and first step” before moving onto the Multi-Object Kill Vehicle. He said one question the agency faces is “how do you improve reliability” of the kill vehicles “for decades to come?” He said the three-contractor teaming on the project “has worked well” and the first flight test, without an intercept, is scheduled for 2018.

He believes there is “great opportunity here” to “drive cost down” through this approach.

Cost has been a concern with the ballistic-missile program almost from its inception. He said he has heard often from senior military officials that “the cost curve is working against us” because a potential enemy is using “relatively cheap rockets” to attack and the United States is spending much more to defend. The “need to start knocking them down at boost phase” is another major issue raised in talking about ballistic missile defense. He described boost phase intercept as “the nirvana” of the agency.

Syring said this is the time to improve all phases of ground-based ballistic-missile defense because of the large investment already made in it. Reliability and persistent discrimination to determine what the lethal object is are keys to building confidence in the system, he added.

The refurbishing work at Fort Greely, Alaska, for the ground-based interceptor is on track and should be completed by 2017. Thirty-seven ground-based interceptors are expected to be in place by the end of the year and 44 the year after.

Syring added that the next ground-based midcourse defense test is set for this month and against an ICBM with countermeasures sometime later this year.

“A lot of investment is going into different technologies” by the services involving directed energy. But the need for longer ranges to be used successfully on stand-off unmanned aerial vehicles and greater power, beam control and booster lethality remain “a pretty big challenge” to boost phase interception.

The Space-Based Kill Assessment sensor network will be in orbit by 2017.

Looking at Aegis Ashore in Romania, Syring said the Navy is testing, training and readying the site for this spring with NATO acceptance coming shortly thereafter. “Poland follows shortly thereafter.”

He said the program itself and the speed of the handover in “making this reality [a] testament to the entire team . . . entire government.”


John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.

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