Last week, the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Service Committee of the United States Congress held a hearing on FY20 Priorities for Missile Defense and Missile Defeat Programs.
“General O’Shaughnessy, If North Korea launched a missile or multiple missiles at the homeland today would you be confident that the current GMD system would be successful in intercepting these attacks?” – Congressman Salud Carbajal (California – District 24)
“Sir, I’m highly confident that we would be able to intercept said attack from North Korea.” – General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command
“It is 97 percent capable against the threat we foresee. The testing, as I might say, we had failures early on, but the record since 2013, I believe, has been if not 100 percent successful, very successful.” – Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves, Director of the Missile Defense Agency
Since 2013, there have been three Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) intercept tests and four intercepts, including the most complex missile test the world has ever seen. The most recent test, FTG-11 on March 24, 2019, demonstrated the deployed and operational capability to defend the United States against North Korean ICBMs with a Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) salvo launch that terminated the incoming target and the next biggest piece of debris from that intercept.
In light of this testimony, North Korea demonstrated a new and unidentified short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) with two launches last Thursday and one last Saturday (May 4), during two different military drills last week. This was North Korea’s first barrage of ballistic missile tests since November 2017, in an attempt to change the direction of the United States on the sanctions pressure. Interdependent of these events and a precedent going forward, was the confiscation of one of North Korea’s largest single-hull bulk carrier ship, that is used to break sanctions on North Korean coal exports and heavy machinery imports, by the United States in waters just outside of American Samoa. During escalating North Korean actions and rhetoric, it brings great comfort and security for the American people that the United States has a 97% capability to negate all of what North Korea can put forward to threaten the United States and its territories.
On the other side of the world, off the Arabian Peninsula, the United States has deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and placed an additional Patriot Battalion on the Arabian peninsula in an escalating standoff that neither side is backing away from. Iran announced last Wednesday it would partially withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by keeping excess enriched uranium and heavy water instead of selling it to other countries as was agreed in the JCPOA. Iran also continues to deploy and proliferate its vast inventory of missiles.
Defending the United States homeland to a 97% reliability against a future Iranian nuclear ICBM threat, that looks to be percolating, will require an additional ballistic missile architecture with space-based discrimination sensors, forward based tracking and discrimination sensors, and additional interceptors.
“The GMD Program is an essential element of missile defense. It is the only pure homeland defense element of our missile defense architecture. But with multiple delays, failures, and woeful disregard of congressional intent, I am left worrying about the fate of homeland missile defense for the future. There is no doubt that missile defense- that missile threats are increasing quantitatively and qualitatively. More countries have ballistic missiles. All of those missiles are increasing in their integration of countermeasures to evade our current missile defense capability.” – Congressman Mike Turner (Ohio – District 10)
In this concern of escalation from a North Korea with between 20-60 nuclear weapons that continues to produce both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles coupled with a potential nuclear ICBM breakout of Iran, Representative Mike Turner presented that there is at least a two-year delay in fielding the promised and funded additional 20 GBIs by 2023 to provide a total of 64 GBIs for the defense of the United States homeland. With a salvo doctrine at the minimum of two GBI interceptors per North Korean ICBM, which was demonstrated by the March 25th salvo test that was validated and approved by the Director of Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E), there is a total GBI capacity to negate 22 North Korean ICBMs with 97% confidence between now and 2025 with the added delay. Putting forward a hostile North Korea, that does not agree to denuclearization, and a potential Iranian nuclear ICBM threat to the United States in the next six years would overmatch the current U.S. homeland missile defense capacity to defend the United States of America.
Ahead of a mature Iranian ICBM capability, a third GBI site in the northeastern U.S. is an important and vital piece for the United States to stay in front of a threat to the homeland. The Department of Defense has down selected from three sites in New York, Ohio, and Michigan for the location of the third site, but has not released this decision publicly yet.
“The Missile Defense Review states that no work will be done on this site until there is actually a maturation of the threat. I don’t think anybody is arguing with that. We are, though, very concerned about the designation of the site. It was congressionally mandated. The work is done. If you tell the sites then obviously, as indicated, two communities would be released. Wouldn’t require you move forward.” – Congressman Mike Turner (Ohio – District 10)
“Our congressional intent was very clear. The environmental impact study was funded, was authorized by Congress. That has been completed. We had language in previous NDAAs that would require an announcement of the preferred site.” – Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (New York – District 21)
Increasing the capacity of 64 GBIs by 2025 will be challenging and adding a designated third site would provide increased battle space for more time to engage and would provide better coverage for the east and southeast of the United States from North Korean and Iranian ICBMs. In this potential gap of GBI capacity, there are two existing deployed and operational U.S. missile defense systems that could be placed to defend smaller areas of the United States in supplement if needed of the promised 64 GBIs. The Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), both of which will be tested against an ICBM target in the near future. The SM-3 Block IIA interceptor is scheduled to be tested next year against an ICBM and the THAAD has already been operationally deployed to defend the state of Hawaii from North Korean ICBMs in 2009. These two systems would provide a mobile underlayer capability for GMD defending against the North Korean and Iranian ICBM threat to the United States.
In development are two boost-phase intercept (BPI) capabilities that would improve homeland defense and reduce the burden on terminal-phase intercept capabilities located in the United States by intercepting shortly after launch from standoff range of these ICBMs in North Korea and Iran. A near-term BPI capability would use the already operational and deployed F-35, along with other manned and unmanned air platforms, with a new long-range Air-to-Air interceptor. A more long-term development is the directed energy platforms with tremendous standoff range and power located high up in atmosphere and in space that would have speed of light and unlimited intercept capabilities, which will significantly decrease the cost per intercept and give the advantage to the defense.
Those days are not here yet, but we are secure and safe today with a 97% reliability of our GMD capability to defeat North Korean ICBMs.
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