Put It Where the Sun Don’t Shine

February 19, 2010

Dear Members and Friends,

Over the past few days, MDAA has been in Fort Greely, Alaska touring the three Ground Based Midcourse Interceptor Fields and visiting the U.S. Army Soldiers stationed here, including the 49th Battalion, 100th Missile Defense Brigade. Today the Pacific Combat Commander Admiral Bob Willard is visiting Fort Greely; Fort Greely falls under the Admiral’s Pacific Command. Fort Greely is unique in that it falls under several US Combat Commanders control; U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) headed by Gen. Gene Renuart, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) headed by Gen. Kevin P. Chilton and Adjutant General for Alaska Gen. Tomas H Katkus.

Missile Field One and Missile Field Three, located in the center of Alaska, are currently populated with Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) which are the only defense against long-range ballistic missile threats, particularly from North Korea, for the United States homeland. Ground-Based Interceptor missiles are, and will always remain, the last line of defense for the American Public; hopefully they will never be used. These mid-course / mid-space interceptors can engage the extremely high speeds of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). This capability means they remain a critical part of a robust multi-layered defensive system and currently provide the last land-based layer of defense for the United States homeland. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that homeland defense is the first priority of our nation’s missile defense systems in the Ballistic Missile Defense Review, released February 1st.

Future proposals for research and development, as well as the President’s phased adaptive approach, include introducing forward layers of U.S. homeland defense by 2020 so as to not rely solely on the GBIs. This would also provide early in-flight engagement options for the post-boost phases of ICBMs.  The withdrawal of the proposed missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, which would have added an additional layer of defense for the US homeland by 2017, leaves the United States completely dependent on the GBIs here in Fort Greely until at the very earliest 2020; provided that future systems are developed, tested and deployed.  Remarkably the only system in the US inventory that is proven to destroy ballistic missiles in the boost phase of flight and could have added a forward layer to U.S. homeland defense, the Airborne Laser (ABL), has been canceled and turned into a test bed for future experiments by  President Obama and Secretary Gates. If proven, the future proposed early intercept defense programs would greatly enhance and supplement the GBIs by providing an inherent capability to defeat countermeasures before being deployed, as well as leaving interception debris over the launched territory.

Until these concepts are proven out, deployed and paid for, our nation is completely reliant on the precision and confidence of the deployed GBIs against the growing threat of Iran and current threat from North Korea. Furthermore, Secretary Gates has made the decision to limit the number of GBIs to 30 thus requiring even more confidence in the reliability of these missiles. The GBI’s must be tested more than they are currently and there must be modernization support for the continued enhancement of the kill vehicle mounted on top of the missile interceptor for our nation to have confidence in the reliability of fewer GBIs.  The GBIs are the most expensive defensive missile in our nation’s inventories, currently costing upwards of $60 Million per missile. Thus, the viability of the system also has a cost efficiency factor that can only be reduced through more production and/or adding multiple kill vehicles instead of one kill vehicle on top of the missile.

The system here in Fort Greely is manned 24/7 by approximately 200 soldiers; the majority of those provide protection for the site while the remaining  man the Fire Direction Center (FDC) or battalion command.  There are five manned positions in the FDC that control the GBIs; a Major Director, Second in Command Captain, Sensors Lieutenant, Weapons Staff Sergeant, and Communications Sergeant. When a ballistic threat is identified by sensors the information is gathered and put into a computer called the Ground Based Missile Fire Control Center (GFCC). The GFCC sends an initial telemetry and target package that to the GBI before it is launched. Once the authority to launch has been confirmed and the FDC determines how many GBIs to launch, the crew is directed to engage targets.  Once the GBIs are launched target updates, if needed, will come through a data transfer link called the IDT. IDTs are placed at Fort Greely, Vandenberg Air Force Base and Adak, Alaska.  The primary human involvement elements in the process are overall control, releasing launch authority and how many GBIs are to be released; the rest of the process is driven by a computer algorithm system.

There are three GBI missile fields at Fort Greely. Missile Field One is an operational test bed that will be mothballed when the construction of the Missile Field Two is completed in 2016; at that time Missile Field One GBIs will be updated and transferred over to Missile Field Two. Missile Field Two has been requested to hold 14 silos, a 50 percent increase from Secretary Gates request of 7 a year ago, and construction is fully under way. Missile Field Three is complete and operational with 20 silos; a majority of them with GBIs in place with plans to have the field completely filled by June. The 30th production GBI will be placed in a silo in Missile Field Three early next week as high winds prevented it from being placed today.

The current plan is to have twenty deployed in Missile Field Three, seven deployed in Missile Field Two and three deployed in Vandenberg AFB, CA for a total of thirty deployed GBIs. It would seem that putting forward the full amount of missiles in Missile Field Three of fourteen rather than seven would be the practical and realistic expectation for our nation’s GBI inventory. Some maintenance activity requires a complete shutdown of a entire Missile Field for safety precautions thus taking a considerable amount of missiles out of operation and placing the other missile fields at risk. There is also regular maintenance, modernization and upgrades being performed on the missiles in the silos taking them out of commission. Having thirty-eight missiles deployed in thirty-eight silos rather than thirty missiles over three missile fields would reduce the risk and ensure for the best protection possible of our homeland during these maintenance periods.

It has been a true honor to spend time with the brave young men and women of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion as they serve our country performing their duties in extreme weather conditions; unheralded and unnoticed.


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