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Validation of Our Best Missile Defense Capability, Virtual Roundtable, November 20, 2023

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, from a fall pre-Thanksgiving day here in Alexandria, Virginia on the week of Thanksgiving. We’ve got a lot to be thankful for. Certainly we want to be thankful for the Missile Defense Agency and the U.S. Navy Aegis BMD program. It’s been phenomenal. 

This is our 57th virtual. This one is on the validation of our best missile defense capability that our nation’s produced, that is the Aegis BMD ship that is in the U.S. Navy. It is a 360-degree capable, integrated defense that goes all the way from sea level with drones all the way up to space with ballistic missiles and hope to be soon hypersonic missile defense that are capable on that.

I do want to mention and recognize the President of the United States Joe Biden, and the President of China for their diplomatic efforts last week in Woodside, California in a competitive, mutual, peaceful environment. So that’s good to see diplomacy in play.

And I also want to congratulate our new CNO Lisa Franchetti. She, by the way, I believe was a captain. Her ship was USS Ross, a BMD ship. So it’s cool to have our CNO be part of that aspect of it.

Well, getting back to Aegis, one of the great reasons why the Navy’s been so far ahead of it, it’s been their culture, they kept their eye on the ball with Admiral Wayne Meyer and build a little, test a little, build a little, test a little. And we’ve just recently witnessed the great test we just had out in PMRF. That happened, really, I think it’s the first time historically, and Tom you’ll be able to correct me, that we were able to do two or more SM-3 variants to simultaneously on both land and ballistic, which now validates the fact that we need to have capacity now since we can do this on top of that.

So that’s a tremendous achievement and I think this goes in the world today as we’ve seen the validation of the USS Carney that Ron captained way back when that went out and I think shot four land attack missiles out of the Red Sea and 16 drones. That’s a huge validation of the combat capability of the Aegis system that all of you worked on. We’re seeing the movement in the Pacific. We’re seeing the movement on Guam, on that architecture, which is fundamentally based on this Aegis BMD capability. We’ve seen movement in Europe, certainly the Aegis Ashore sites that are there, but more importantly, the ships are out Rota and more importantly, the Formidable Shield that we’ve had integrated capability been in place for many years. We’ve been doing that aspect of it.

We are concerned that administration may be cutting MDA’s budget by a considerable amount and that the value is not really understood of MDA and as he just put BMD systems. And I think this is a very valid point of discussion today on how valuable MDA is to the war fighter in this kind of capability. And it certainly be hard to believe, but we would reduce our missile defense budget at a time like they’re doing with the conflicts that we are in in the world today.”

-Mr. Riki Ellison – Validation of Our Best Missile Defense Capability

“So there were two cruise missiles coming in. There were two ballistic missiles coming in, all targeting the ship, arriving at the same time and time to make sure that all defensive missiles were in flight at the same time and completely successful.

Now, some people may think that’s really hard. I got to tell you, this is straightforward. This is not … If you want to test the full capability of an Aegis ship, bring a billion dollars for a test program. All right? But it was good to get that validation of being able to do BMD, ballistic missile defense and anti-ship cruise missile defense at the same time. Complex scenario, lots of missiles in flight simultaneously. Piece of cake. So that’s good to get that done. So now we can move to the next level.”

-Ret. Rear Admiral Tom Druggan – Validation of Our Best Missile Defense Capability

“As we prepare to be in the right place … Carney’s in the right place off of Yemen. In missile defense, you need to be in the right place, but when you start thinking about something that can drop from anywhere in the world, then you start having to rethink about the whole network of integrated air missile defense. That’s where the theory of integrated deterrence was brought up during the ballistic missile defense reviews. We could argue all day whether or not we think that is a valid construct, but it is what is driving some of the thought behind the investments and where we have to go.

One of the things that is challenging is that when you look at missile defense agency’s budget being cut, in a flatline budget, which I would argue I don’t really think we’re flatlined with the things you’re seeing today between inflation and the looming 1% cut for example in this, if we don’t get a budget by the 31st of December, which it’s probably not going to happen, but we really have until April. All these things coming at once, whatever you do to increase one thing, you decrease in another. It’s a zero-sum game. And whether it should be or shouldn’t be, I believe that it shouldn’t be, we should be having some real growth if we’re really concerned about a near-peer competitor. Then we have to prioritize inside of the portfolio. We brought all the key players in, missile defense, all the services, all the co-coms, and obviously, prioritize the three that mattered most in this area, and that’s what drove the investment.”

-Ret. Vice Admiral Ron Boxall – Validation of Our Best Missile Defense Capability

“So what that means is it’s fantastic that we’re spending 4 billion a year, three and a half billion a year on offensive hypersonics to match and catch, and I’m sure we will catch and pass eventually China and Russia and offensive capabilities. I have total faith in our primes to develop kick-ass systems that do that. The problem is you have to have a defensive system to counter a first mover authoritarian regime like China or Russia, and to do that, we need to be investing similarly in our defensive hypersonics. And right now the delta is 10 to one, about three and a half billion to 320 million. That’s not acceptable. Now, part of that’s driven by the fact that we’re maintaining ourselves in a research and development status in hypersonic defense. And I think that’s tied to a risk aversion and a lack of understanding that this is not your normal. We got to get a programmer record.

We have to do this exactly right. We have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. We’ll have this delivered by 2034. That’s got to stop. We don’t need a competitive environment at this point. If there’s a country out there, if there’s a company out there ready to deliver a product in the next three to four years, we need to bet on that one. And if another company comes on with another product, bet on that one. This is one of those times when for a lot of reasons that are too hard to explain in this podcast, we neglected the kind of investments that were necessary in hypersonic. It has to do a lot with how MDA is perceived services versus MDA, has a lot to do with because of INF, we were limited in how we developed things like this. So whatever reason we’re at now it’s time to push the envelope, take risk, invest in multiple, and let’s say one fails, God forbid.”

“I know we don’t let that happen inside the Department of Defense, but let’s invest in a program and fails. I would be pushing hard on whatever glide phase interceptor program is available right now, try to deliver something by 2029. Now that’ll drive the cost up once you start buying munitions. None of this is cheap. I think most of the glide phase interceptor programs are like piecemealing things together from already expensive missile systems. So it’s going to not be cheap per intercept, but this is one of the places where the enemy spends a lot of money on their outgoing weapon. So in the ROI, it is not that bad. So hypersonics to me is a big one, Riki, in that defensive Guam, but I did refer to something there, and that’s the cost of investment. We need to get to lower cost interceptors. Look, I don’t want to guess how much we spent off the Kearney several weeks ago versus how much the Houthis spent on drones, but I would say I would not be surprised if this was a hundred to one mismatch.

I would not be, and that should make us all uncomfortable. We need to figure out how to rapidly get to low cost intercept. And when it comes to drones, an answer I doubt it ever is, but it should never be a standard missile or even an ESSM. It needs to very rapidly get to directed energy weapons, something that is a much lower cost, and so we need to drive down the cost. Now look, as much as I say that to the Navy, I’m really talking to the army here because the army, when we say they have no cruise missile defense capability, what we’re really saying is they don’t have a cost effective one because patriot batteries are expensive as hell. We can’t afford to build multiple ones and their effectors are $3.2 million around. That is not a cost effective cruise missile defense system against an adversary that produces things in the hundreds to thousands.”

-Ret. Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery – Validation of Our Best Missile Defense Capability

“the test MDA did showing the capacity requirements for us is huge. It validates what we’re doing for the current capabilities now. It’s going to be hard to fund it and all that, but it’s got to be done to be able to continue to our new weapon systems come forward. So I think that’s huge. I think it’s huge for MDA who should not be getting cut.

We all know you got to have a layer of defense to win the world championship, and this is about winning the world championship here for the future of our nation and the future of the World. World Championship starts with a defense layer.”

-Mr. Riki Ellison – Validation of Our Best Missile Defense Capability

Vice Admiral (Ret.) Ron Boxall 
Former Director for Force Structure, Resources, and Assessment (J8)
Joint Staff

Rear Admiral (Ret.) Mark Montgomery
Former Director of Operations
U.S. Pacific Command

Rear Admiral (Ret.) Tom Druggan
Senior Associate, CSIS
Former Program Executive. Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, MDA

Mr. Riki Ellison
Chairman and Founder
Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance

Click here to watch the virtual roundtable

Click here to read the transcript

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