Pentagon Aims to Boost Accuracy of Ballistic Missile Defenses

Technicians prepare a Ground Based Interceptor for emplacement into Missile Field 2 at the Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greely, Alaska, in February 2012. Missile Defense Agency officials want to focus on increasingly the interceptor's accuracy, among other new initiatives.
National Journal
Sebastian Sprenger, Global Security Newswire
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Sebastian Sprenger, Global Security Newswire
March 5, 2014, 9:43 a.m.

The Pentagon’s fisc­al 2015 budget re­quest funds new pro­jects aimed at mak­ing U.S. bal­list­ic mis­sile de­fenses more ac­cur­ate and re­li­able, a seni­or of­fi­cial said.

One of three such ini­ti­at­ives is re­design­ing the pivotal Ground Based In­ter­cept­or’s Exoat­mo­spher­ic Kill Vehicle, to the tune of $100 mil­lion in the up­com­ing fisc­al year and $738 mil­lion through fisc­al 2019. The pro­ject is part of the Mis­sile De­fense Agency’s $7.46 bil­lion budget re­quest, un­veiled on Tues­day.

Plans to re­design the prob­lem-plagued kill vehicle fol­low a “long­stand­ing need” for great­er re­li­ab­il­ity of the sys­tem, as evid­enced by sev­er­al in­ter­cept test fail­ures over the past few years, Mis­sile De­fense Agency Dir­ect­or Vice Adm. James Syr­ing told re­port­ers.

The oth­er re­lated ini­ti­at­ives are de­vel­op­ment of a long-range dis­crim­in­at­ing radar for watch­ing over the Pa­cific — pos­sibly from a loc­a­tion in Alaska — and “dis­crim­in­a­tion im­prove­ments” for boost­ing ex­ist­ing home­land de­fenses, Syr­ing said.

Moun­ted atop the Ground Based In­ter­cept­or, the kill vehicle is de­signed to slam in­to in­com­ing mis­siles while in space and keep them from hit­ting U.S. tar­gets.

The term “dis­crim­in­a­tion” in mis­sile de­fense gen­er­ally refers to an in­ter­cept­or’s abil­ity to identi­fy and en­gage in­di­vidu­al tar­gets. Soph­ist­ic­ated bal­list­ic mis­sile at­tacks can in­clude false war­heads or oth­er ob­scur­ants meant to con­fuse de­fens­ive sys­tems. To suc­ceed in knock­ing out in­com­ing at­tacks, in­ter­cept­ors also need an abil­ity to identi­fy and pur­sue tar­gets through any debris cre­ated by pre­vi­ous shots.

The new radar is budgeted at $80 mil­lion in fisc­al 2015, which be­gins Oct. 1, and at $940 mil­lion through the end of the five-year pro­gram plan, ac­cord­ing to an agency spokes­man. Of­fi­cials want $122 mil­lion for dis­crim­in­a­tion im­prove­ments in the next fisc­al year and a total of $198 mil­lion through 2018.

The new in­vest­ments would yield a bal­list­ic mis­sile de­fense ar­chi­tec­ture “cap­able of dis­crim­in­at­ing and killing a re-entry vehicle with a high de­gree of con­fid­ence,” Syr­ing said. The lan­guage not­ably sets the bar high­er for suc­cess­ful per­form­ance than in re­cent years, when of­fi­cials in­stead stressed that the mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar sys­tem should be ex­pec­ted to of­fer only lim­ited cap­ab­il­ity. They at­trib­uted short­com­ings to a de­cision more than 10 years ago to field a mis­sile de­fense pro­gram in haste.

Mi­chael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief weapons test­er, wrote in an an­nu­al over­view of weapon pro­grams in Janu­ary that the failed tests “raise ques­tions re­gard­ing the ro­bust­ness of the EKV’s design” and re­com­men­ded a re­tool­ing.

Ex­actly how the ac­quis­i­tion of a new kill vehicle would un­fold, and wheth­er cur­rent con­tract­or Ray­theon would get the busi­ness, is still an open ques­tion, Re­u­ters re­por­ted on Tues­day.

Mean­while, U.S. of­fi­cials are stick­ing by plans to field 14 ad­di­tion­al Ground-Based In­ter­cept­ors at Fort Greely, Alaska, bring­ing the total num­ber of de­ployed sys­tems to 44 by 2017. The ad­di­tion­al de­ploy­ments, ex­pec­ted to cost $1 bil­lion, are “un­af­fected” by the planned kill-vehicle re­design, ac­cord­ing to Syr­ing.

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