Our nation is on the verge, at the end of this year, of having a constellation of persistent multiple commercial and military satellites in low earth orbit, called the Space-based Kill Assessment (SKA), operating together to track and provide kill assessment of U.S. missile defense intercept tests and North Korean Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) from launch to termination. This will reduce the number of shots taken by the limited number of Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) for each ICBM threat, and bringing forward more sensors and making more capable the upcoming regional “under layer” of ICBM interceptors. Most important is this constellation of commercial and military satellites is the foundation for the future space-based discrimination sensor constellation layer for persistent global coverage to provide firing data to intercept all missiles – hypersonic, cruise, and ballistic – in all phases of flight from boost, midcourse, and terminal. It is exponentially more cost efficient to launch and operate a mixture of small commercial and military satellite constellations, compared to what is done in space today. It is the future for space and missile defense.
“It will be completely deployed by the end of the year to essentially assess and demonstrate our ability to do kill assessments. It was on the right side of the chart I had up there. The success is our ability to work with industry very, very quickly to support industry timelines, the acquisition process using the authorities that are resident in the Missile Defense Agency to go all the way…. Both the space and the communications and the ground system will be part of the architecture. We’ve been demonstrating the architecture, the ground force of the architecture, as part of a flight tests for the last few years. We’ve been simulating the projection of the space capability into that ground architecture and ensuring that the ground architecture can process it and deliver it to the command and control battle management system. So with the deployment of the space-based piece before the end of the year, we’ll be using the entire system, at a minimum, as part of a flight test to demonstrate the value of doing a post-intercept assessment — that’s the official term for it — but doing a kill assessment. We’re working with the combatant commanders, primarily NORTHCOM in this case, to demonstrate the value of that information as they make their determination as to whether or not to, as an example, to take a second shot or save those rounds for another threat coming in. It’s something that so far has been a significant success, both in the deployment of the capability as well as experience working with industry and working cooperatively and at the speed of industry to deliver capability. So it’s something we’re very proud of and you’ll hear a lot more about it.” – Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves, Director of the Missile Defense Agency on September 4, 2018
The universal rule for missiles of all types is, if you cannot see the missile you cannot intercept it no matter how good your interceptor is and if you cannot discriminate and see the details of the actual intercept, you have to increase the shot doctrine and shoot more interceptors or accept the risk of not intercepting the missile. This universal rule applies specifically to the world’s only operational ICBM kinetic energy interceptor that is also the most sophisticated missile defense architecture in the world, the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, specifically built to defend the United States of America against ballistic missiles from rogue states like North Korea. Due to the curvature of the Earth and the extreme distances from North Korea to North America, both sea- and land-based radars operationally deployed for this GMD system cannot physically watch the ballistic missile’s flight from birth to death, but instead watch the most critical areas of space in the flight path of the ballistic missile that provides the best targeting information to the onboard GBIs for the intercept location. Each GBI has its own complex and superior sensors that can operate independently and determine which thruster motors need to adjust to move the Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) to the exact place to collide with the ICBM and destroy it. The Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX), the most powerful X-Band radar in the world, positioned correctly ahead of time is capable of kill assessment and validating the GBI’s intercept of the ICBM over a specific range in space, in addition the last images of the EKV as it makes contact can also validate interception. Both of these deployed systems don’t have the advantages of a space-based view and are also not globally persistent and have to be positioned prior to intercept to work a very specific area of the flight path against a single ICBM. Kill assessment is a direct factor for the number of GBIs necessary to be launched for each threat missile, which is called shot doctrine. Having a reduced shot doctrine exponentially increases the capacity and capability of the limited numbers of the GBIs. If the first GBI interceptor hits the ICBM there is no reason to shoot another GBI, but if the first GBI misses, then the second GBI interceptor, third, fourth etc. would have already been launched or have to be launched to intercept a single incoming ICBM missile. Launching two interceptors at one ICBM target is called a salvo launch, this tactic and doctrine of one interceptor after the other launching is used on Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ships, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), and Patriot. A GBI salvo launch is being demonstrated and tested later this year in operational conditions from Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB) across the Pacific, with the target ICBM coming out of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in Kwajalein Islands.
“John Hyten, a longtime friend and today close colleague, remarked a few weeks ago at the Space and Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville, that we will never hit a target we cannot see coming, and that the Chinese hypersonic threat in particular is one that in today’s world we can’t see coming until it’s too late. That alone would cause me to want to go to space for a space sensor layer.” – Dr. Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering on September 4, 2018.
“So you will hear the agency talk about, as I mentioned, we absolutely need to get to space, as both General Hyten and Dr. Griffin mentioned. If you can’t see it you can’t shoot it. If you don’t know where it is, I don’t really care how many interceptors you’ve got, they’re totally ineffective. The best place to do that, from what we can see as the threat matures, especially the hypersonic threat, is from space.” – Lieutenant General Samuel Greaves on September 4, 2018.