In addressing the urgent growing ballistic missile threat from North Korea, specific language in the $440 million reprogramming to missile defense programs approved by the United States Congress defense committees, both the House of Representatives and the Senate, are authorizing the United States to test and develop the new Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor – that is co-developed by Japan – against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). This test would prove out and demonstrate an “inherent capability,” as the former Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Vice Admiral James Syring testified earlier this year (Link), within the SM-3 Block IIA to intercept ICBMs and lofted trajectories that North Korea has recently demonstrated (Three lofted tests since July 2017, Link) to Japan and the Republic of Korea. With target missiles and U.S. ICBM Minuteman available, this proposed SM-3 Block IIA ICBM test could couple with the existing upcoming milestone SM-3 Block IIA test against a “Iran to Europe” range target intercept from the Aegis Ashore Site at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) at Kauai, Hawaii before these new interceptors are allowed to be deployed in Poland in 2018 as required by the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).
With a successful demonstration of an ICBM intercept using the Aegis Baseline 9 combat processor with the SM-3 Block IIA as early as next spring, limited production and deployment of the interceptors would follow. This would be the quickest, most efficient, and most capable increase of missile defense capacity into the Pacific against the North Korean nuclear ballistic missile threat that the United States could do next year and the following years. There is no other United States missile defense system and interceptor of ICBMs and lofted launch trajectories that is proven and demonstrated, which can be operationally deployed to increase the capacity of the existing missile defense of Guam, Hawaii, the United States, Japan, and South Korea by next year. The Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) that protect Hawaii and the other 49 States are at their maximum capacity, to be at 44 by the end of this year. This number is not viable for long because of GBI testing, as well as their obsolescence, that number will fall below 44 next year unless addressed. The GBI production lines have been shut down in anticipation of the new modular Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV), projected to have its first deployment in 2021 (Link). Moving the RKV testing and deployment to the left by a year and gathering from the discontinued production lines, a necessary amount of GBIs to stay above the 44 and test abundantly is challenging but feasible. Increasing the reliability of the current 44 GBIs to give them more discrimination efficiency is three years away with the upcoming Long-Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) in Alaska, scheduled to be operational in 2020 and a new Medium-Range Discrimination Radar (MRDR) in Hawaii yet to be determined when it will be operational. Until 2020, software upgrades to the Sea-Based X-Band (SBX) Radar and replacement of the first-generation Booster Stacks for the 44 GBIs to increase reliability are the only realistic improvements that are feasible over the next few years. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that protects Guam and South Korea today has not been tested or demonstrated to defeat ICBM speeds or lofted ballistic missile launches with similar speeds as demonstrated by North Korea (Hwasong-14 Link and Hwasong-12 Link) and would most likely need a second stage to have an extended range (Link) for that capability to warrant testing against an ICBM.
Out of the entire reprogramming that the United States Congress is adding at $440 million, the only notable increase in U.S. capacity of ICBM interceptors for next year’s deployment and most likely the following three years, against the rapid growing North Korean nuclear ballistic missile threat is the Congressional requirement of the SM-3 Block IIA to be developed and tested against an ICBM target, with an in place low rate production of these interceptors that could accelerate with a successful test and having four additional Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ships with Baseline 9 combat software capable of launching the SM-3 Block IIA interceptors that add to the current nine U.S. Aegis BMD Destroyers that are deployed today.
From the Japanese joint partnership of the development and operational deployment of the SM-3 Block IIA, it would seem critical for their national security that the SM-3 Block IIA be tested against lofted launch trajectories that produce ICBM speeds which North Korea has demonstrated in its threat to Japan. There are approximately 120 million people living in Japan today that are directly threatened by North Korean thermonuclear ballistic missiles. Japan will want to deploy their share of the low rate production of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors following a successful upcoming milestone test in Hawaii next year on their newest Aegis BMD type ships capable of engage/launch on remote, launching SM-6 and SM-3 Block IIA interceptors and enabling multi-missions for their ships. Upgrades to the JS Atago (DDG 177) is to be completed in 2018, followed by upgrades to the JDS Ashigara (DDG 178 ) which is to be completed in 2019. Japan is building two additional new Atago Class destroyers that are expected to be completed in 2020 and 2021 and will have this same Baseline 9 capability. Further, Japan plans to purchase two or more Aegis Ashore sites that will have at the minimum Baseline 9 capability that could be deployed operational by 2020 -2021 with SM-3 Block IIA interceptors at the earliest.
From the United States joint perspective of the development and operational deployment of the SM-3 Block IIA, it is equally critical for our national security and the safety of our population in and along the Pacific that the SM-3 Block IIA as soon as possible be tested against ICBM speeds and lofted launches which North Korea has and will continue to increase its capacity and demonstrate in its nuclear ballistic threat to our ally Japan, our territory of Guam, Hawaii and the continental United States. With U.S. Naval Aegis BMD ships today defending Japan and Guam, the United States will want to deploy their share of the low rate production of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors, following a successful upcoming milestone test in Hawaii next year, on its nine current Baseline 9 Ships, and the additional four ships noted above to be upgraded, three brand new ships with Baseline 9 currently in construction, and the current upgrading of one to two Aegis BMD ships a year to Baseline 9.
The State of Hawaii and its population will benefit by default from a likely impending intercept test of the SM-3 Block IIA against an ICBM target that will demonstrate as well as prove a missile defense capability being launched out of the Aegis Ashore site at PMRF in Kauai, Hawaii or even from the USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) Aegis Baseline 9 BMD ship nearby to provide an underlay of protection under the limited amount of GBIs deployed in Alaska that have to defend all 50 states for all of Hawaii against the current and rapidly growing North Korean nuclear ballistic missile capacity and capability. With a limited low rate production of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors coming forward next year after a successful intercept test from the Aegis Ashore site in Hawaii, it would be extremely hard pressed to believe that the United States share of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors with Japan would be sent away from the Pacific, Guam, Japan and Hawaii to the new Aegis Ashore site in Poland to fulfill the 2018 EPAA mandate by the previous Administration, to defend against the ballistic missile threat to Europe from Iran that is not at mature or as advanced as North Korea is today.
The SM-3 IIA with ICBM tested and proven intercept capability will best increase the current capacity of our nation’s missile defense against the rapid growing capacity of the North Korean nuclear ballistic missile threat over the next few years and until the RKV is in production, the replacement of the Booster Stacks for the GBIs, the LRDR, and the MRDR are operationally deployed.