MDA Seeking Directed Energy, Coalition Solutions To Missile Threat; Navy Pursuing Larger Sensor Network

March 14, 2016 4:56 PM
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) launches a Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) during a live-fire test of the ship's Aegis weapons system in June 2014. US Navy photo.
The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) launches a Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) during a live-fire test of the ship’s Aegis weapons system in June 2014. US Navy photo.

To counter the growing quantity and capability of enemy missiles around the world, the Missile Defense Agency is looking for better discrimination and directed energy solutions while the Navy looks to better integrate its sensors to create a “kill web” instead of a “kill chain,” officials said earlier this month.

The missile threat is not just growing in quantity – enemy missiles now maneuver, deploy countermeasures and do other sophisticated actions that complicate U.S. missile defense efforts, Deputy Director of the Missile Defense Agency Maj. Gen. Ole Knudson said March 1 at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual ASNE Day event.

MDA’s biggest need today from the engineering community is better discrimination to help hit the enemy missile regardless of countermeasures. With the cost of American interceptor missiles still far surpassing the cost of even the newer and more sophisticated enemy missiles, “we don’t want to shoot one of our hit-to-kill missiles at something that isn’t the actual object that we’re trying to defeat,” Knudson said.

Also as a result of the cost curve remaining in the adversary’s favor, Knudson said there’s a great need for American allies and partners to not only buy their own missile defense systems but to also integrate them with the U.S. network – which presents not only engineering challenges but also policy challenges surrounding the sharing of data.

“We’re encouraging them to get as much capability as they can – that’s actually part of our strategy for regional defense is that we can’t buy enough missiles and enough systems and deploy enough to defend everywhere in [U.S. European Command], [U.S. Central Command] and [U.S. Pacific Command], so we’re working with our allies and partners there for them to get their own capacity.”

Knudson said MDA recently released several requests for information on cross-domain solutions with coalition partners and “got great responses back.” He did not mention any specific missile defense programs or countries. Related to this effort, Program Executive Officer for Integrated Warfare Systems Rear Adm. Jon Hill said in a separate presentation at ASNE Day that Japan has shown interest in the Aegis Ashore missile defense system.

“Japan at this point is asking questions but there is no formal agreement on the table,” Hill said.

As for the cost curve itself, Knudson said MDA is actively trying to reduce the cost of missile defense by changing its approach. Rather than shooting at targets with expensive kinetic interceptors, the MDA is looking at lasers. And rather than needing multiple single-purpose interceptors to shoot down a complex threat, a “multi-object kill vehicle” is in the works.

“We’re doing a bunch of work on directed energy both to improve our ability to do track and discriminate and to be able to do what we call boost-phase kill” to lase a target in the early phase before it can deploy countermeasures, Knudson said.
“And then we’re looking at things called multi-object kill vehicle, which is really putting several kill vehicles on the top of a booster so that … you have the potential to get many kill vehicles [in a single hull] to handle more complex scenes.

“And then on the coalition partner side, we are looking at cross-domain solutions and there’s some RFIs we’ve recently put out and so we haven’t implemented those yet but that not only handles the technical exchange of data with coalition partners but it also has to handle the cyber aspects of that.”

On the Navy side of missile defense, officials are focused on trying to bring more sensors into the kill chain.

“We know that we’re sensor-poor, we won’t always have the [E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning plane] up. So what other aircraft can we use out there?” Hill said during his presentation.
“We are doing experimentation today with the F-35. … We’re capturing data and we’re determining whether or not we can actually close that fire control loop. That is a huge huge thing for our future. You look at other sensors that are out there that allow us to do other missions like the anti-surface mode with [Standard Missile]-6, being able to shoot far and take out surface targets – that’s pretty cool stuff.”

Navy Capt. Tom Druggan, the Aegis Combat System program manager at PEO IWS, said at ASNE Day that bringing these sensors into the Naval Integrated Fire Control- Counter Air (NIFC-CA) construct presented a systems engineering challenge, but that the Navy needed to get serious about finding more sensors that can transmit accurate and timely data to the Aegis Combat System.

Despite the engineering challenges, “we are now in a great position where we can shoot down missiles in flight using third-party targeting. That’s a proven capability for the United States Navy. That’s fantastic,” Druggan said.

“Now we have a kill chain for NIFC-CA. The next challenge is to turn that kill chain into a kill web. We need more data providers. The target space, if we ever go to combat or war, will be rich. We need sensors that can track them all, but all sensors are not created equal, so we need sensors that can provide fire control quality data,” he continued.
“So we are now systematically going through all the sensors that are available now and in the future to see what can meet our needs in terms of putting a SM-6 on target. And that includes things like (MQ-4C) Triton, potential (carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle) in the future, F-35, MH-60R, P-8As, all of them. What can turn our kill chain that we have, that is agnostic to the sensor as long as it can meet our requirements – it’s called quality of service – if a sensor and platform can meet our quality of service requirements, we can then use that as fire control quality data for engagements.

Druggan added that the enemy would not launch a single-pronged attack against the Navy at a perceived weak link, but rather would launch “a very broad frontal attack against all our links, platforms, sensors, so we have to have lots of paths in order to engage all the targets that are out there.” Creating a “kill web,” therefore, brings versatility and resiliency to the U.S. Navy missile defense architecture.

Today’s NIFC-CA increases the engageable battlespace eight-fold by linking together sensors, platforms and weapons, Druggan said, and the next generation of NIFC-CA with additional sensors and platforms could expand that battlespace even further.

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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