The tremendous and historic success of the most complex missile defense test ever done last week to demonstrate our nation’s unequivocal capability to defend the United States from North Korean ICBMs was validated, endorsed, and applauded by both political parties yesterday at the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing on missile defense.
“Part of our deterrence is based on a credible capability to deny an enemy the ability to achieve their objective and so this test clearly shows that they would not be able to achieve their objective which leads to our ability to deter, which we could prevent a conflict from every happening because they know they can’t reach their objectives. And as the operator of the Ballistic Missile Defense System this gives me great confidence because we actually use our operators, the actual folks who are doing it to include your team at Greely, as we launch this out through the operational construct. It really gives us that high sense of confidence that we can use to deter our adversaries.” – General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Commander of U.S. NORTHCOM and NORAD on April 3, 2019.
“I think it sends a very strong message about the credibility of our capability and reinforces deterrence. Missile Defenses are part of contemporary deterrence both offenses and defenses. If your Kim Jong-Un or another adversary you have to think about first the probability that your attack would be successful and then secondly even if we successfully defended against an attack, an attempt to incinerate an American city the story wouldn’t end there we still retain our offensive capabilities.” – John Rood, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on April 3, 2019.
The bi-partisan support for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system and this test to prove operational capability and reliability marks a significant achievement for the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) viability and a victory for this mission that began in 1998 after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan. The path to success began in a politically charged partisan environment on missile defense, that was further fueled by the rapid rush to deploy in 2004 the initial GMD system and subsequent test failures after deployment. The United States Congress has held high the technical bar for the GMD system to be proven in all capacities, as they should for the defense of the United States of America and its allies that are dependent on the United States assured deterrence. The technical engineering challenges of the current operational GMD system have all been achieved by MDA with the success of this test last week that represented an accumulation of numerous and very critical tests spanning many years leading up to it.
In a rare testimony of the system and its test results, MDA Director Lieutenant General Sam Greaves explained to the SASC yesterday what took place.
“The reference is to the acronym FTG-11, Flight Test Ground-Based Midcourse Defense-11, which together with the U.S. Northern Command and General Dickinson’s team, we executed back on last Monday it was the most complex, comprehensive, and operationally challenging test ever executed by the Missile Defense Agency… The object of the test was to launch an ICBM – Intercontinental Ballistic Missile – representative target, and we did that from the Marshall Islands out in Kwajalein, to ensure it achieved the speeds you asked about earlier and the profile of a realistic threat. But this test was different because we launched, within a very short period of time, two Ground-Based Interceptors, operationally released by the combatant commander using their operational processes which is very important and the lead interceptor intercepted the ICBM representative threat, but what’s most important is that it created a debris field – and this test has been ten years or more in the making – and the importance of that was the trailing of the second interceptor was able to discern the debris from the ‘next most lethal object’ which I can talk about in a classified forum, and also intercept that object. What that means is an enemy’s concept of operations would seek to confuse our missile defense system by launching junk or debris would not be successful. That’s why it was a success.” – Lieutenant General Sam Greaves on April 3, 2019.
U.S. missile defenses developed over the last 30 years – since the short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats during the Gulf War in the early 1990s through North Korea’s development of ICBMs in 2017 – have achieved validation through multiple testing events and very thorough engineering processes, all in the absence of a great-power competition environment that the afforded the United States the luxury of time to rely on a capability based acquisition process and stay ahead of rouge nation ballistic missile threats. The future of the GMD system now will be focused on increasing efficiency, its reliability and lower the cost, with the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV), additional long-range discrimination sensors on land and in space, and an increase in capacity to stay ahead of the threat from North Korea and Iran.
“We will not succeed by fighting tomorrow’s conflicts with yesterday’s weapons.” – Michael D. Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering on March 28, 2019.
As our nation now moves forward, beyond the solutions and architecture to negate the relatively simple ballistic missile threats of Iran and North Korea, to overcome great power regional competition in long-distance maneuverable cruise missiles, hypersonic glide vehicles, and ballistic missiles from China and Russia, a new vision is needed to rapidly develop new missile defense technologies and test them more and to failure faster to learn faster in a threat driven, rapid acquisition environment.
“Congress, and this subcommittee in particular, must be willing to provide top cover for those that fail fast, fail smart, fail forward, and internalize the lessons learned from those failures.” – Congressman Jim Langevin, Rhode Island 2nd District on March 28, 2019.
There is no ambiguity from the President, Congress, the Department of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chiefs of the Services, and the Combatant Commanders on the reemergence of China and Russia to superpower competition. With the development of more regional missile and hypersonic glide vehicle capability and capacity, further enabled and accelerated by the withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty (that China was never signatory), Russia and China at their current rate will look to equal – in both quantity and quality – U.S. deployed capability in the next few years. It is of urgency that the United States rapidly develop new capabilities to surpass Russian and Chinese regional Anti-Access/Area Defense (A2/AD) capabilities in Europe and the Pacific.
The United States has been in this position before in 1940s and winning the great power competition in World War II and post-World War II. The most critical innovation and testing grounds for this rapid development of systems to beat the competition in the 1940s and 50s was the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. Today and through the near future, our nation turns to WSMR once again for the testing and development of rapid new technology capabilities to compete and win against great power competition.
“We are working to build and sustain a level of dominance so overwhelming that no adversary will start a fight because they know they will lose. That’s our goal.” – Michael D. Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering on March 28, 2019.