Rose-Colored Glasses

August 19, 2011

Dear Members and Friends,

In a dimly lit ballroom at the Van Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Lt Gen Patrick O’Reilly gave the annual status and future prospectus of United States missile defense.  A receptive audience, composed of hundreds of members from the defense industry and the community whom the Missile Defense Agency supports from their complex in nearby Redstone Arsenal, was in attendance at the U.S. Army’s 14th annual Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) Conference.  


In addressing his supporters, the director skillfully and with great confidence articulated his breadth of knowledge and logic behind what his organization has done and plans to do to implement missile defense systems across the spectrum according to policy guidelines set by the current Administration.  Because the number one priority on paper of the current administration for its missile defense programs is U.S. homeland defense, and because the conference was hosted by the Army SMDC that provides the soldiers who man our nation’s homeland defense against ballistic missiles, the director spent ample time highlighting this system and the successful path forward.  His view was optimistic about the system and its future; he laid out a schedule and test plan that won’t see a GBI intercept test until the end of 2012, the Presidential election year.  The war fighter would require that this test is a success in order for the C2 configuration of allotments of Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) to be operational, as they are yet to have a successful intercept.  The GBIs in silos protecting the U.S. homeland are made up of both C1 and C2 configurations. The last successful GBI intercept test was done with a C1 configuration in 2008.  Under the GBI schedule the director displayed in Huntsville this week, it is clearly evident that the Department of Defense’s requirement of 30 operational GBIs to protect the U.S. homeland will not be fulfilled by the end of this administration’s four-year term. 


The MDA Director provided compelling reasons to forward base a communication terminal at Fort Drum, New York by 2015 to feed information to the GBIs in flight and increase their battle space time to protect the East Coast.  Though the director didn’t bring it up, those same reasons are even more valid in forward basing GBIs at Fort Drum, as the two most recent tests of the GBI at its outer ranges, which would be required to defend the East Coast from Alaska and California, were unsuccessful.  Providing GBIs at Fort Drum, New York in addition to Alaska and California shortens the flight time, increases the war fighter confidence, and provides more battle space to assure much greater defense of the Eastern United States against missile threats from Iran than the system currently does.  A hedging strategy such as this could be applied if Iran demonstrates ICBM capability before 2020.


Clearly evident from the director’s presentation is that the most significant progress and achievement under this administration has been the Phase One deployment of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).  Validation of Phase One was demonstrated earlier this year by a successful Aegis BMD intercept test using a non-organic sensor (AN/TYP-2) to feed into the fire control sensor of the Aegis ship for a successful intercept with a SM3 1A missile using the 3.6.1 version of Aegis.  This proceeded with a battle management upgrade to the C2BMC at Ramstein AFB in Germany and full deployment of the USS Monterey, a BMD Aegis destroyer with SM3 1A missiles and the 3.6.1 processor in the Mediterranean Sea.  Still due to be deployed by the end of the year, though currently delayed due to foreign basing sensitivities, is a forward based TPY-2 radar in a country close to Iran, such as Turkey, to complete Phase One.  This significant achievement for the Director is followed closely by the most challenging, both in complexity and implementation objective:  A master integrated test plan for all nine U.S. missile defense systems that MDA is developing to be deployed over the next five years.  Those systems are GMD, Aegis Ashore, Aegis 3.6.1 and the SM3 Block 1A, Aegis 4.0.1 and the SM3 Block 1B, Aegis 5.0/5.1, Aegis 4.0.1 extended range and the SM2 Block 2A, THAAD, Patriot, and Sensors.  Congressional oversight has been highly critical of MDA’s test program since its inception and this master integrated test plan is a direct attempt to address the United States Congress’s concerns on testing.


Though discussions on phases 2, 3, and 4 of the European Phased Adapted Approach were impressive, the appeal of the EPAA presentation was the potential application to other regions of the world for specifically handling large amounts of missiles at the full spectrum of ranges and with increased threat sophistication. These involve reliability of future systems such as the SM3 Block 2B, PTSS, increased fire control processors, and space, which could all be vulnerable to being eliminated in the fiscal reality of challenging reductions to the Department of Defense budget.  Additionally, these same systems will become harder to fund from MDA’s budget in the future, as the operation and maintenance costs of all the missile defense systems MDA is responsible for continues to grow, leaving less funds available for the research and development of future programs as well as the more important funding of full integration and interoperability of all the systems.  This is a major concern for missile defense.  Adding to this complexity is the upcoming 2012 Presidential election, where future systems for missile defense have a history of being jeopardized in a new administration if the Presidency changes. 


Though Missile Defense was presented in a very optimistic view in Huntsville this week, with the economy as it is today and in the foreseeable future, the American public and Congress will surely demand their limited, and perhaps reduced, resources in missile defense to defend based on funding priority:  The United States homeland first, its armed forces overseas second, and its allies third-not the other way around.

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