Home » Budget Industry » Some Clues Emerge On New Pentagon Ballistic Missile Defense Review


Some Clues Emerge On New Pentagon Ballistic Missile Defense Review

U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the Japan Ministry of Defense (MoD), and U.S. Navy Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) successfully conducted a flight test Feb. 3 2017. MDA Photo

In a year packed full of new strategic reviews being pushed out by the Pentagon, yet another new document is on the way.

While the Ballistic Missile Defense Review — expected to be released in the coming days — is the last of several reviews to emerge from the Pentagon over the past two months, in many ways it might have the most immediate effect, analysts say.

The review will likely call for a major expansion of missile interceptor sites in Alaska, meant to protect the continental United States against Intercontinental Ballistic Missile attacks from North Korea, Laura Grego of the Union of Concerned Scientists told reporters Friday.

There are already 44 Ground-based Mid-course Defense (GMD) interceptors in California and Alaska, and the Pentagon is looking to build at least 20 more. There has been some talk of eventually having 100 GMD interceptors in Alaska alone, Grego said.

The missile review, according to one defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity but is familiar with its drafting, will take a much harder look at Iran, North Korea and China than the last review, released in 2010. Each of those countries has made huge strides both in range and lethality since that assessment, and the Pentagon’s thinking about the threat, and planning for it, hasn’t received the public airing that it should have until now, the official added.

The review will also likely advocate for the continued development of the SM-3 Block IIA missile, which is fired from an Aegis Combat System both aboard U.S. Navy destroyers and on ground stations. The Raytheon-made missile failed its last two intercept tests in June 2017 and January 2018.

If those tests can be turned around, the missile, which is faster and has a longer range than its predecessor, would likely provide an impetus for China and Russia to build more and more sophisticated missile systems to try and beat it. In effect, said Philip Coyle of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, “what that says to Russia is that the United States has a new system that they will have to counter.”

Missile defense analyst Tom Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told USNI News he hopes the new strategy “opens the aperture of the missile threat problem moving from BMD to a full spectrum of missile defeat solutions.” Specifically, he said the United States needs to begin “thinking about the missile problem more comprehensively than just the ballistic missile threat. All this other stuff like UAVs and how all these things fit together in a complex integrated attack” are key to providing an overall picture of the threat as it currently exists.

Missile Defense Agency’s Flight Test 06b Ground-Based Interceptor launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on June 22, 2014. MDA Photo

While the Trump administration initially disappointed many by cutting funding for some missile defense programs in its initial fiscal 2018 budget submission, and doing little to kick off what is expected to be a $1.2 trillion overhaul of the country’s nuclear triad, things began to change just days before Christmas. That’s when Congress signed off on a $4.7-billion plus-up — attached to a stopgap spending measure to avoid a government shutdown — to the global missile detection and defense system, albeit with no debate over what was being purchased, and few details about specific items in the massive spending bill.

The measure called for approximately $2.4 billion for missile defense procurement and $1.3 billion for missile defense research and development. The package also included close to $700 million to repair the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, both of which were damaged over the summer in separate fatal collisions with commercial ships.

The funding appears to mirror requests the Pentagon made in November. In that document, the Navy asked for $60 million for “classified programs” related to missile defense, while the Air Force requested $12 million for “special update programs” also related to missile procurement. The Air Force also asked for an additional $288 million for a slate of classified and “special update programs.”

Some aspects of the American early warning system took a hit last year, when the McCain and Fitzgerald were taken out of service, and the massive Sea-Based X-band radar system returned to post in Hawaii for a months-long, multi-million dollar round of upgrades.

The heavy lift vessel MV Blue Marlin sits moored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, with the Sea Based X-Band Radar (SBX) in 2016, US Navy Photo

The SB-X had spent several months at sea prior to coming home to Hawaii, part of it parked near North Korea where it was able to detect and track missile launches. In May, the $2.2-billion SB-X successfully tracked a mock intercontinental ballistic missile fired from a Pacific island toward California, a feat the Missile Defense Agency praised as proof of its effectiveness. Critics, however, said the long-planned test held few surprises, and the system was set up for success.

The SB-X has some limitations, and will one day be replaced by the $784-million Long-Range Discrimination Radar, which is slated to be installed at Clear Air Force Station in Alaska in 2020. Since the LRDR won’t be able to cover Hawaii, the Missile Defense Agency is looking at a second radar to cover the island state, and is considering a Medium-Range Discrimination Radar or an Aegis Ashore battery on the island.

  • Curtis Conway

    Build an Aegis Ashore in Hawaii and use the 69-RMA AN/SPY-6 AMDR. Once installed and proven, build them in CONUS for dual duty (AMDR + FAA).

    • DaSaint

      This is a no-brainer. Just install one for Hawaii. Can’t have a Day of Infamy II.

      • Centaurus

        Sure we can, and did…It was called 9/11. Only the Kamikazes had 5 o’clock shadows at 8:00 AM

    • kye154

      The Aegis system is good against short and intermediate range missiles,which fly through the atmosphere. But its has its limitations, and is really not very effective against high altitude long range missiles, and that is what will be shot at CONUS, if a conflict ever did erupt. You also must have an interceptor along with the Aegis system, to be effective too. The only interceptor we have for exo-atmospheric interception is the SM2ER Block IV missile, which is still in development, and has not yet tested to be reliable enough yet, (1 successful hit for every 3 orchestrated shots. The Aegis system is also not good at sorting out live ordinance from decoys either). Sure, the SM-2 Block IV can engage ballistic missiles in the terminal phase of a missile’s trajectory, but the problem with that is, how close to the target do you want to intercept it? If the incoming missile is armed with a nuclear warhead, most of those would be set to explode over and above the target anyway, to get the maximum effect from ionizing radiation, the thermal radiation, and blast effects of the weapon. If the nuclear missile is intercepted in the ionosphere and causes it to explode, then you could very easily induce an EMP, which would certainly cause a blackout, or fry the electronics, of the Aegis system. The other limitation with the Aegis system, is that is must be linked with others, to be truly effective against long range missiles

      • Curtis Conway

        Your primary comment is against the AN/SPY-1 radar, not the Aegis Combat System. The AN/SPY-6 solves all of those radar related problems, does well for high altitude targets, and provides a solid track very reliably. When combined with the AN/UPX-29 IFF system every track has squawked IFF transmitted by the track indicated.

        Atmospheric intercept is SM-6, though many SM-2s are still in the fleet, and the line looks to improve rather than shut down. Exoatmospheric intercept is SM-3 (Blk 1A/B, IIA) only, and hopefully future test of SM-3 Blk IIA improves.

        “…how close to the target do you want to intercept it?” Well now, let us see. We want to intercept it as soon as it is positively identified, as far out as possible, and have as many options on the slate we can manage (defense in depth), otherwise you are ‘Planning to fail’ for no system is perfect.

        Concerning EMP, our Surface Combatants and the combat systems installed are hardened against EMP, some with multiple faraday cages and shielding. Of course . . . you get close enough…

        • kye154

          Agree with what you say on a lot of the different versions of theAN/SPYand the Aegis system. But, the limiting factor for both has been having an interceptor that can successfully intercept the target dependably. The other big problem to both systems is sorting out the decoys from the live targets. Neither system can do that, at the present time. However, the interceptors we have are very limited in range, Maximum of 5500 km. The inability of the Spy-1 and Aegis to find the missiles at their launch sites, until they are launched, then it is too late at that point to down them in their initial flight, particularly true if you are engaging them at max range.. The idea of mobile launchers used by the Russians and Chinese were meant to keep Spy-1 and the Aegis systems guessing.

          The other issue about EMP and the systems being hardened for that is a little bit of misleading sales propaganda. Yes, the circuitry and the wiring is hardened. However, the radiating element and phase shifters are not, and cannot be to function. Consequently, when there is an EMP burst, it ionizes the elements and shifters, overload the transformers, and you will sustain damage. Even the monitors will take on a glow, before they quit working and start smelling like burning electronics. We were involved in the Naval Laboratory-Raytheon EMP test in the early 1990’s, of the Spy-1D, (designed for the Arleigh Burke class). There was no way you could really “harden” it against an EMP attack. The Spy 2 (aka SPY-1E SBAR) is even more of a problem since it is an active phased array. Also, under an EMP attack, you can forget about any satellite links to the system too. Of course, the distance from the EMP blast will determine the amount and strength of the ionizing radiation you will receive. The smaller versions, like the Spy-1F and Spy-1K are not hardened for EMP at all.

          • MDK187

            And what kind of EMP characteristics did you assume in that test?

          • kye154

            We tested in accordance with MIL-STD-461 RS105 at pulse amplitudes in excess of 50,000V/m, for E1, E2, and E3 generated pulses. Hardening didn’t seem to do much good, when things got up around 160,000 to 200,000 V/m range, which was a lesson to us, which meant was, as long as you didn’t have the blast occur directly overhead, you’re equipment might have an incremental chance at survival, depending on the energy of the blast and distance from it. The E2s test simulated a direct lightning strike of 200,000 amps discharge.

          • MDK187

            By the book, huh? By the book, E2 and E3 can occur much more powerfully due to Nature than by any man-made device, so E1 is the only potentially enemy-action component here. If the hardware survived 50kV/m for E1 then it’s good enough – anything above that requires “exotics”, not relevant to real engagements. One could reasonably argue, however, that EMP in general is not relevant in real engagements – too much theoretical bunk in that subject.

          • Curtis Conway

            As for ‘target sort’ and decoy discrimination, that takes place in several ways, and not always with the radar suite. The space-based version of this BMD system of ours (that was cancelled) was one of the best methods for providing this early detection and target sort capability.
            “The idea of mobile launchers used by the Russians and Chinese …” keeps the IAMD US Navy in business, and makes those platforms more valuable.
            All of our SPY radar platforms tracking is Line-of-sight. The planet is round, so unless we intend to post our ships off of very adversaries coast in picket stations, we had better make sure a defense in depth capability exist, perhaps even regionally in CONUS.
            As for interceptors . . . GMD GBI’s record of accomplishment is not very great either, which makes the argument for Regional CONUS BMD even more relevant.
            I guess you are looking for an EMP hardening contract, or do you work for Operational Test & Evaluation? I suspect SPY-6 has some capability with this respect. However, as I said before, you get close enough…..

          • kye154

            Yeah, target sorting is still out of our reach, and the funding for it isn’t available. Also, we can’t do target sorting from either space or from the surface of the earth if we can’t identify each projectile’s payload.

            And yes, it would be much better to take a defense posture by installing Aegis within Conus, instead of parking ships off of everyone’s coast and give other nations the idea we are the aggressors. (That is expensive to deploy ships for that purpose to begin with, not to mention, that is the main argument the Russians and Chinese are using for the installation of Aegis in South Korea, Romania and Poland, and yet aren’t installed here in Conus).

            No, I am not looking for any contracts. I use to work for the Naval Labs as a physical scientist during the 1990’s, before I switched over to the Air Force labs. I am getting ready to retire next year anyway.

      • homey

        you really have no idea what you’re talking about wrt current SM’s…

    • tiger

      Would you not want to knock them down before they got danger close? Why not place them at Midway?

      • Curtis Conway

        Truth be told, at some point that will be required at selected US Pacific bases.

        • tiger

          Time use Midway & Wake for something other than bird watching.

          • Curtis Conway

            Can you imagine that shore duty. The facility would have to be build on high ground, probably artificially raised for hurricane resistance, and the facility built hurricane proof. If that construction project eventuality transpires, then construction ships will have to be developed to move from one site to the next. SEABEES are going to love this.

  • DaSaint

    Agree. Need more Aegis Ashore. And if it augments NORAD, invite Canada to build some too.

    • El Kabong

      Sadly, Prime Minister Sock Puppet hates the Canadian military.

      • D. Jones

        Don’t tell him it’s a radar. Tell him it’s a giant igloo monument to indigenous people.

        BTW, the Navy takes some outstanding photos, of course the subjects are usually pretty cool 😉

        • El Kabong

          Funny enough, the DND pulled a fast one on Cretin back in the 90’s.

          He mindlessly scrapped the Chimo/Petrel SAR/ASW helos but they were the only choppers capable of meeting Canadian needs.

          So some brilliant mind told the libtwit government the DND would buy “Cormorants”. 😉

          Only after the first delivery, did Cretin find out it was an EH101! 🙂

    • Curtis Conway

      NORAD/BMD and FAA tracking . . . killing two birds with one stone. Now there is a concept the federal government will NEVER figure out!

      • DaSaint

        Of course not. Makes some sense.

      • El Kabong

        Different radars.

        Civvie radar isn’t usually powerful enough to get long range skin paint returns off of a/c, as they rely on radar transponders.

        • Curtis Conway

          Some truth to that statement, but the real truth is they (FAA) track beacons for the most part. That is why everyone must Squawk IFF. Those wishing to sell things to the government have made sure the two standards were different so they could sell more equipment. FAA rarely looks at secondary radar (raw video). On Aegis platforms we look at our SPY track symbology with another radar video selected as track confirmation, or to see weather. Turn on your IFF display, and one can get further confirmation. There is no reason that a macro standard could not be adhered to in FAA. The Navy Combat System Standard far out performs the FAA requirement, with few special exceptions. With the amount of money that has been spent on numerous FAA upgrades over the last decades SPY-1A facilities could have been built and linked together, providing much greater capability based upon a common tracking equipment standard, with just a few special software capabilities added to FAA facilities. And here we sit looking to spend that money AGAIN, with SPY-6 on our doorstep, and Aegis Ashore facilities needed, very possibly able to meet both requirements. However, go make your money for THAT is all with which the Military Industrial Complex is concerned.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    I still like the original ‘Star Wars’ concepts involving lasers on satellites and other space-borne vehicles. Period…

    • kye154

      Yeah, I liked the concept too. The problem with lasers are, if the incoming warhead is designed to take the heat and abuse of reentry into the atmosphere, then its pretty tough to build a laser powerful enough and compact enough to destroy it. The YAL-1 we experimented with back in the 1980’s-90’s could shoot down missiles. but they were the short range missiles that were not designed to travel outside the envelope of the atmosphere. Besides the problems of generating a beam powerful enough, the problem with using a laser in atmospheric conditions that can distort or diffuse the beam. Variations in air density, water vapor, and cloud cover were all problems. The third problem was, the Iodine solution used for lasing, had to be carried in a tank aboard the aircraft, and ejected out the rear-end of the plane each time the laser was fired. In other words, the laser was limited to about 20 shots, so you had to make every shot count. The fourth problem was like any other weapon system, in acquiring the target. It was great to use against missiles that had a infrared heat signatures from the rocket itself, but had difficulty in acquiring satellites and high altitude warheads coasting along without their rockets. The laser also worked great at destroying liquid fuel rockets, but not so well on rockets with solid-propellent. But, the concept was good, so maybe they will revive the it again someday if they can’t make good on their current anti-ballistic missile systems.

      • Curtis Conway

        How about not living in the past, and look to the future. We no longer use iodine in our lasers. Hit to kill would be much easier to employ from space.

        • kye154

          Well, the past was what we actually experimented in to know something about it. Also, it would be nice if we had electronic lasers, rather then chemical lasers to shoot from outer space, but who can afford that? Can you?

          • Curtis Conway

            That perfect world would be nice, wouldn’t it? Learn from HiStory and all that. Nothing is as constant as change, and there is always room for improvement.

            I think the 747 Laser Platform should come back for Boost Phase intercepts. Then the airborne lasers for the bomber tail chase remedy. Then we can put them on more platforms as its actual utility reveals itself.

          • kye154

            The big drawback to that is having to keep that 747 in the air all the time. The second problem is getting it positioned close enough to hit anything in the boost phase. The third big problem is being overwhelmed with targets to shoot at. It does have its limitations. Perhaps the best solution is not to have so many enemies to worry about.

          • Curtis Conway

            Once again that perfect world. However, target sort will work itself out with time, and hitting missiles on the boost phase is a pretty long time in perspective considering all the other kinds of engagements with which we must compare. No target sits still and says ‘shoot me’, and if it does you probably shouldn’t. The 747 will already have its self defense mechanism built in, or added on (ZPY radar with AIM-120s, and organic laser capability).

  • Curtis Conway

    Do you remember all the arguments we had in the blogs about the Aegis Ashore having AAW capability? I kept telling them it was a baseline build (software), perhaps some illuminators, certainly missile launchers, and that’s about it. As for shore based army units in any country providing the AAW/AD. . . well they can move for a reason, and it might be away from you (Aegis Ashore).

    • Centaurus

      Just shoot them all down with A-Bombs ! EMP East Asia pre-emptively. They’re as techno-dependent as we are. We can just wear aluminum hats.