“They (North Korea) are the number one existential threat to the U.S. right now. They are. No one else is going to shoot nukes at us.” – Congressman Duncan Hunter, Representative for California’s 50th District – November 2, 2017
“There is no point in the history of our country where this threat has been forced on us, that we have to deal with. The North Korean crisis is forcing a new way to play.” – Riki Ellison – November 2, 2017
MDAA hosted a lively discussion on intercepting ballistic missiles during the first 300 seconds of a missile’s flight- its boost phase- before the ballistic missile releases its warheads, decoys, countermeasures, and debris in our 15th Congressional Roundtable.
The first 90 of those seconds are in the earth’s atmosphere, where the ballistic missile is at its slowest – reaching one kilometer a second or around 2,200 mph – in which current U.S. air to air interceptor missiles are combat proven. Adding advantage to air to air intercepts of ballistic missiles in the first 90 seconds, is the small width of North Korea, around 150 miles, that enables standoff ranges from air platforms that don’t have to fly over North Korea and can avoid their perimeter air defenses.
After leaving the atmosphere, the ballistic missile then continues to accelerate as it releases its boosters and burns through its fuel to get to 7.5 kilometers a second or around 17,800 mph, releasing its warhead – one every thirty seconds if there are multiple warheads – as it the warhead with a cloud of debris, decoys, and countermeasures in a ballistic trajectory through space and back down into the Earth’s atmosphere. Both of these phases, midcourse and terminal phase of a ballistic missile flight have specific interceptor and multiple sensor systems deployed by the United States that are proven to track, discriminate, hit and kill the warhead going at speeds up to 17,800 mph.
The ballistic missile is exposed throughout the first 300 seconds, including the first 90 seconds in atmosphere, where directed energy weapons – lasers at the speed of light – placed on air based platforms within the earth’s atmosphere would have the capability and the speed of light to burn through the skin of the ballistic missile and/or up through its rocket plume and engine in under a second, from standoff ranges in the 100s of miles, to completely destroy the ballistic missile and cause its debris to fall back down to the territory where it was launched from. The more power of the laser, the faster the burn through of the ballistic missile, and the further distance the laser on the air platform can have standoff range.
“If we can produce the technology, understand it, put the investments in it, and determine whether or not it’s feasible–to get to a higher-power laser at the weight that can be carried by a long-endurance aircraft–then we have an option that we can provide the warfighters, and that’s really where we’re focusing our time.” Rear Admiral Jon Hill, Deputy Director of the Missile Defense Agency – November 2, 2017
“Specifically, for us, it’s about scaling–it’s about scaling up the power. Why do we care about power? Well, if you’re going to go after a boosting missile, you don’t want to be flying over enemy territory. You don’t want to be in the range of air defense batteries; you want to have standoff range, and power gets you that standoff range.” – RADM Jon Hill, November 2, 2017
The United States Government has successfully tested boost phase ballistic missile intercept capability inside the atmosphere over the past decade but have not chosen to make any of the technologies a program of record to be produced and deployed. The Airborne Laser used a chemical laser, that successfully intercepted a short-range ballistic missile during its boost phase on February 11, 2010. The Network Centric Airborne Defense Element (NCADE), which was based off of existing Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), successfully intercepted a Orion sounding rocket after it was launched from an F-16 during an intercept test on December 3, 2007. It is also to be noted that the Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) was tested successfully on November 21, 2002 for early ascent phase intercept after boost.
The most expedient possibility to deploy boost phase missile defense could be the F-35 with ARAAM interceptors in the first 90 seconds. Using the Distributed Aperture System (DAS) on the F-35, that uses six mid-wave infrared cameras, that when knitted together create a 360 degree infrared view of the world all around the aircraft. The DAS was successfully tested in October 2014 to detect a missile launch and provide weapons quality tracking information on the ballistic missile and share that information through Link-16 that could then be used by an Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) ship.
“If you extrapolate into the future what you could do with the F-35 and how you would operationally use it, because of the 360-degree nature of the distributed aperture system, you don’t always have to be pointed at the potential launch location. So it’s fairly easy at that point to detect a launch, track a missile, and pass that off to other shooters.” – Mr. Tom Lawhead, Chief of Staff, Air Force Joint Strike Fighter Integration Office
“We’re looking at a range of options, and the aircraft launch of missiles is not off the table for us, and it’s certainly being considered as part of the BMD review that’s in place right now, and I’ve personally gone through the equations that Dr. Canavan has laid down.” – RADM Hill
Boost phase Missile Defense on air based platforms is where our nation must go. Speed of Light Directed Energy is the technology leap that breaks the cost curve and is the nation’s fourth offset to lead in the 21st century.
“Beyond the F-35 and the AMRAAM solution, we can look at UAVs, Global Hawks, Avengers, with 4,000-pound solid-state lasers that can burn holes through the skins of missiles in under a second at standoff ranges of 100 miles or so.” – Riki Ellison
“Secretary Mattis said it’s unacceptable to have a nuclear North Korea, and I’ll also dime out Secretary Mattis. In his first couple of meetings when he was talking North Korea and missiles, from what I understand, he had one question at the end: boost phase–‘Okay, so how do we shoot them before they go up?’ That was it.” – Congressman Hunter
“If you don’t contain Korea now, when they have a certain number of warheads, then the shoot-down in boost phase doesn’t matter anymore. We’ll be using what we’re talking about now, and the technology, for the next century. We’ll have to treat them like a peer country, with nukes, which is insane.” – Congressman Hunter
“We’re at a different juncture, with our national security and the security of our allies at stake, and we’ve got to do everything we can across the board, across all agencies, to get capability.” – Riki Ellison
Click here for video of the event and a transcript of the event will be forthcoming.