In today’s intensifying and complex world that increasingly challenges the status quo of U.S. power and influence, it is vital that United States’ strategic deterrence is strengthened in both capability and intent. These challenges to U.S. strategic power are coming clear and apparent from the major powers of China and Russia, but also from smaller rogue nations such as North Korea. Adding to these challenges are the potentially negative repercussions of the upcoming U.S. – Iran nuclear deal, and the subsequent enablement of Iran through its reentry into the global economy.
The United States earned status as the dominant global power has provided for the stability and security of the world’s democracies over the last 70 years. The linchpin of this power rests upon the U.S. strategic ability to inflict devastating retaliation against a state enemy that would seek to destroy the current world order through military action. This U.S. strategic deterrence is made up of offensive systems, including both nuclear and conventional weapons capable of exacting enough damage on a potential enemy state to outweigh and change its strategic calculus to attack. Strategic deterrence is also equally dependent on the denial of an enemy state’s objectives to strategically threaten the United States. The most capable strategic deterrence is a combination of both offensive repercussions and defensive denial. The riskiest and least stable strategic deterrence is total reliance on either denial or offensive retaliation.
Today our nation spends 4% of our annual defense budget on strategic nuclear offensive forces, and around 1.7% on its missile defense systems to deny our adversaries’ growing offensive ballistic missile systems from reaching their intended targets. This includes our national and regional systems, as well as contributions to our allies such as Israel and Japan. Only around 20% of the 1.7% of missile defense spending goes towards defending the United States against long range ballistic missiles. This is not a balanced approach for the American public in providing strategic deterrence for the homeland against enemy states such as North Korea, a nuclear armed state, or Iran, for which the upcoming nuclear deal will guarantee at best a 12-month nuclear weapons breakout time. With China’s increasingly modern strategic offensive forces, Russia’s continued use of its offensive platforms to blatantly challenge U.S. and NATO airspace along with modernization of its strategic offensive forces as President Putin recently stated, it is paramount that the United States invest heavily and more equitably into both effective defensive denial systems and modernizing its strategic offensive forces to maintain U.S. status quo in capability while still maintaining compliance to the 2010 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia. START limits deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 each and limits the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers to 800 by 2018.
Our nation’s Ground Based Midcourse Missile Defense system currently has 30 Ground Based Interceptors (GBI) to protect the United States, and is specifically tailored to defend against North Korea with residual capability to defend against Iran. By 2018, an additional 14 GBIs will be added for a total of 44 GBIs. With a single kill vehicle on each GBI, a probable shot doctrine of firing at least four GBIs per one incoming ICBM missile, and around 20 percent of the fleet being serviced or upgraded at any given time, this leaves very scarce capability that can be quickly overwhelmed. North Korea is estimated to have around 20 potentially miniaturized nuclear weapons today, and may soon have a multiple independent reentry vehicle (MIRV). This provides the potential of a few MIRVed North Korean ICBMs that could potentially overwhelm the entire system as it is today. There is simply not enough GBIs deployed today in quantity and reliability to provide an effective balance of defensive denial coupled with our nation’s outdated and underfunded strategic offensive systems to provide the most effective and efficient strategic deterrence for the United States. For the United States to retain the power and stabilizing influence it has earned through the shedding of American blood over the past 70 years, it must have a more balanced and modernized strategic deterrence.
At the core of our unbalanced approach today is the GMD system, with its 30 GBIs. This is the foundational block and the only proven capability available for the denial of nuclear ICBM threats to the United States. Beyond the GMD system’s multiple space, land, air and sea based sensors and battle management command communications is the crucial element that accumulates all the data and achieves the denial – the interceptor. The interceptor (GBI) is made up of a three stage rocket with a single payload of an Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) that is engineered to collide with the incoming ICBM warhead at closing velocities of 39,000 mph in space. This critical device has the capability of adjusting its position with the use of liquid-fueled directional and altitude control (DAC) thrusters coupled with a very capable sensor to independently track and destroy once deployed within the predicted location of the threat cloud containing the warhead. Its capability and reliability is enhanced when multiple external sensors are fused together and uplinks give it the exact locations and specifics of the ballistic warhead.
The second generation CE-II EKV interceptor, that is now replacing a small portion of existing first generation CE-IIs in the GBI fleet was validated last year on June 22 in its software and hardware (cradle) modernization to dampen the vibrations from the liquid DAC thruster that had been adversely affecting the inertial measuring unit in certain conditions. With these new proven CE-IIs designs now being deployed in the fleet, there is more reliability and confidence that directly equates to more reliability. This is a long and consuming process as the change-out time of one new CE-II interceptor takes around 10 months to retrofit and certify. The new 14 additional GBIs added to the fleet in 2018 making a total of 44 will be outfitted with the second generation CE-II EKVs.
However, the majority of today’s 30 GBIs are the first generation CE-1 interceptors. The CE-1 was last tested in July 2013, and saw its last successful intercept test in December of 2008. Overall, the CE-1 has achieved 8 intercept successes out of 14 tests and was first deployed in 2004. Later this year, new upgrades including a thruster to the CE-1 will be validated and tested in a non-intercept test out of Vandenberg AFB. A decision and recommendation will then be made either to pursue an intercept test to validate and then move to retro fit the entire CE-I fleet, or to leverage the new thruster and add it to the third generation EKV- the new Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) to completely replace the entire CE-I fleet beginning around 2020. The development and demonstration of the North Korean and Iranian threat over the next two years will play heavily into this decision. Over the long term, it would be a better decision to replace the older CE-1s that are nearing their end of lifetime with the new RKV. Should the North Korean and Iranian threat develop more quickly than anticipated, however, the United States may be given no other choice but to upgrade the CE-Is, or else leave the United States for several years with a higher level of risk until the RKV is ready to begin deploying in the 2020 time frame.
With the substantial qualitative improvements of the GMD system of the EKV replacement and upgrades on the current fleet of GBIs, the deployment and integration of the new Long Range Discrimination Radar in Clear Alaska and a new sensor in Hawaii to further reduce the high shot doctrine of GBIs and increase reliability against North Korea, it is of absolute necessity in the near and long term to increase GBI capacity quantitatively to keep ahead of the threat and provide a much more balanced effective strategic deterrence globally. There are two primary courses of action for pursuing such a quantitative increase. Developing a Multiple Object Kill Vehicle (MOKV) to replace the RKV would allow for a single interceptor to force multiply its successful engagement of the warhead among decoys, countermeasures thereby reducing shot doctrine. The other course is to increase the number of deployed interceptors up to the one hundred range and provide more battle space by geographical dispersion of these interceptors. Additional emplacements in Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg AFB, California along with a forward based location in the eastern United States and potential sea based platforms would provide valuable battle space and time to provide the best defense for the United States.
These two courses are not mutually exclusive, and both should be pursued along with an increase of spending for defensive denial to achieve an optimal balance between our offensive and defensive elements to most effectively deter threats to U.S. security and global stability. An achievable, near term goal should be to have U.S. investments in missile defense and defensive denial systems to reflect at least 2% of the annual defense budget.
The scales need to be balanced.
– Riki Ellison
MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.
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