Countering missile threats means addressing the present while planning for the future

June 25, 2020


In 2017, I helped author the CSIS report “Missile Defense 2020,” a broad look at the history, status and future of the U.S. homeland missile defense system known as Ground-based Midcourse Defense. The report argued that the establishment of GMD had put the United States in an advantageous position relative to the North Korean missile threat, but this advantage would be short-lived if the United States failed to improve GMD through incremental milestones and regular testing. GMD has had some notable achievements with this strategy. The Pentagon, however, seems to be moving away from this proven approach to GMD, attempting great leaps rather than manageable steps. This riskier approach could make the United States less secure over the near and long term.

Until recently, GMD had been following a well-defined road map, with good results. After a series of flight-test failures from 2010-2013, the Missile Defense Agency began a rigorous effort to root out anomalies within the system’s Ground-Based Interceptors, or GBI. MDA carried out a successful intercept in 2014, followed by intercepting an intercontinental ballistic missile-class target for the first time in 2017. In 2019, GMD engaged an ICBM target with a salvo of two GBIs, marking another first for the system. MDA also expanded the fleet to 44 GBIs and is constructing a new Long Range Discrimination Radar in Alaska to provide the system much-needed sensor support.

These achievements were supposed to be followed by an incremental modernization of the GBIs. The plan was to incorporate a new Redesigned Kill Vehicle around the year 2020. The RKV would be similar in concept to those currently deployed but incorporate new technologies and nearly 20 years of lessons learned.

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