Space is a domain for human endeavor and is becoming increasingly so, like the air and sea domains around the globe, the United States is now adding on the burden of protecting and defending that domain for the benefit of all and for the national security and defense of the United States and its allies. Similar to the United States having the capability to enforce a no-fly zone in the air domain or a blockade in the sea domain, the United States must have a capability in space to prevent a nation or entity that would use that domain to threaten other nations and the United States. The United States economy is too dependent on space, as is much the economies of the western civilized world, for this domain not to be protected for all.
In the allure and buildup of this reality of competing in space – with applying new technologies in space to negate cyber, electronic warfare, antisatellite weapons, ballistic missiles, hypersonic, and cruise missile threats – the nation must be able to sustain and grow our current technologies deployed today to enable the shift into the space domain, a transition which is as long as the 16.5-year deployment cycle, as Under Secretary of Defense Dr. Michael Griffin states. That is an extremely long time and an equally extremely expensive process that has been driven by excessive and risk adverse processes of past policies in the development of future capabilities against an unknown future threat. We are a wealthy and powerful nation that lived in luxury to afford a risk adverse capability-based acquisition process that takes 16 years to produce a new product. Time is the enemy, there is no more ambiguity, we now know what is coming and we need to get after it, to meet and stay ahead of the threat and defend the nation.
The considerable challenge of flattening the 16-year process and accepting more risk to increase the speed of development will take time, great leadership, and a willing Congress. While this fundamental change is taking place today, our nation faces a preeminent ballistic missile threat from North Korea and a potential Iranian ballistic missile threat that all have to be negated with today’s technologies, that are deployed and or can be modified in a short period of time. We must take note and concern of the continued production of North Korean Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) during these peace talks and Iran’s test for the first time in a year. Mark Clark, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center stated last week, “North Korea’s ICBMs are capable of reaching the U.S. although North Korea has not proven yet that it has a reentry vehicle designed to survive the range that it is covering and the atmosphere that it could actually reach the U.S.”
The only proven capability deployed operationally in the world today to defeat ICBM missiles is the United States Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) System made up of 44 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs). These 44 interceptors are comprised of three different generations of Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicles (EKVs) and as a result, the United States has to launch multiple GBIs (Shot Doctrine) at one ICBM for high confidence and reliability. The next capacity increase for these 44 GBIs is not until 2023, when 20 brand new 4th generation Redesigned Kill Vehicles (RKVs) will be placed in Alaska, along with a Long-Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) in 2020 that will also help to reduce the GBIs shot doctrine and increase capacity as well as reliability. That is five years from now and North Korea, though in negotiations with the United States to denuclearize its capability, is continuing to produce ICBMs to overmatch the United States missile defense capacity within the next five years. If Iran develops ICBMs over the next five years, it would put an exponential strain combined with North Korea on the limited number of GBIs defending the United States of America.
The United States, as our guardian against these threats with the responsibility of defending 300 million people, has to invest, test, and quickly deploy capabilities to enhance and complement our 44 GBIs over the next five years at the minimum and maybe 16 years if the nation doesn’t change its acquisition process. The GBIs defend a tremendous amount of area, providing significant battle space for multiple shots and intercepts in a layered and in-depth approach, starting close to the midcourse phase, or the apex, of the ICBM’s ballistic flight in space and ending in the lower part of space as it travels. This is the existing and only inlayed system the United States has to defeat ICBMs.
To increase the deployed operational capacity and capability for ICBM ballistic missile defense for the United States over the next five years, we need to grow operational deployment of the inlayer, the underlayer and the overlayer system. There are three options:
- Push production, testing, and development of the new RKV on the upcoming 20 GBIs to the left of 2023.
- Test, adapt, prove, and deploy the existing Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA, an Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) interceptor, to defeat ICBMs from U.S. Aegis BMD Baseline-9 ships off the coast of the United States and from Aegis Ashore sites in the United States. This is called the underlayer, which intercepts below the GBIs in lower space, defends a smaller area, and has a smaller battlespace than the GBIs. ICBM intercept tests for the SM-3 Block IIA are scheduled over the next two years and the interceptor is already in limited production and is co-produced with Japan. Test and adapt the THAAD system for ICBM capability, as there are seven existing THAAD batteries and Hawaii has previously deployed the THAAD system for its defense against North Korea.
- Leverage the existing F-35 air-based platform or a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) AQ-9 variant with a more advanced air-to-air interceptor to intercept a boosting ICBM in the first 300 to 500 seconds of its launch. This is called Boost Phase Intercept (BPI) and is the overlayer that can reduce or thin out the number of launching ICBMs, so that the GBIs and underlayer can better provide a no fail backstop.
“There are a lot of studies that say we shouldn’t do this (BPI). Let me tell you why these studies are wrong. Maybe they’re right for the first missile but they are dead wrong for the second missile and the fourth missile and the 16th and the 350th because after the first missile which we may not be able to do with this thing, we are going to go after all those other missiles.” – Joseph Keelon of the Missile Defense Agency on August 08, 2018.
The recent 2018 National Defense Authorization Act of $717 billion, signed by President Trump last Monday, August 13, has continued to put forth current technology for missile interceptors and to support the inlayer, the underlayer, and the overlayer to best prepare the defense of our nation.
The development and deployment of the underlayer and overlayer, along with the existing inlayer, would finally realize the long-time goal of having a multi-layered missile defense capability for the U.S. homeland.