Next Budget May Bolster Sea-Based, Land-Mobile Missile Interceptors
The next Missile Defense Agency budget may switch from a focus on items such as providing more Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptors to "robust" other systems such as sea-based missile defense and land-mobile interceptors.
That was the word from Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director, who noted approvingly that there should be a total of some 30 GMD interceptors by the end of this year, with 26 in Alaska and four in California.
He referred to an early stages budget document called a Program Objective Memorandum (POM) for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010, in comments he made to an MDA-American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in Washington, D.C., and later in a news briefing where he responded to a question from Space & Missile Defense Report.
Obering cautioned, however, that nothing in the MDA budget is final until it is included in the fiscal 2010 budget proposal that will go to Congress next winter, just as President Bush is leaving office and a newly elected president is entering the White House. (Please see separate story in this issue.)
The sea-based system includes the Aegis weapon control system by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] and the Standard Missile-3 by Raytheon Co. [RTN].
On other points, Obering said:
- MDA, while moving to hire The Boeing Co. [BA] for a sole source, non-competitive contract award for continuing the GMD program for five more years, still wants to have a competition for a contract for maintenance/sustainment work in the system, something that could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. (Please see separate story on the Boeing sole-source contract in this issue.)
- While MDA wishes to build a third GMD missile defense site in Europe, in addition to existing sites in Alaska and California, the European installation can’t occur until the Czech Republic agrees to host the GMD radar and Poland agrees to provide the site for silos filled with interceptors. Obering said, "I think we will have agreement in the near future. … Our schedule [is to] get agreement this year," then start construction next year, aiming for interceptors in solos and operational capability in the 2012-2013 time frame. The European GMD installation would guard against missiles launched from Middle Eastern nations such as Iran. (Please see separate story in this issue on comments from Czech, Polish figures on agreement chances.)
- When the United States shot down a failed intelligence satellite recently, before it plunged out of control in a potentially hazardous reentry and crash landing, MDA considered using the GMD or the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems, but instead decided to use the Aegis-Standard Missile system because "it turned out that the Aegis was the easiest to modify," he said. The test was successful, destroying not only the satellite but also a tank filled with toxic, dangerous hydrazine propellant inside the satellite.
- North Korea and Iran, considered rogue states by many analysts, are following parallel paths in developing longer-range, more threatening missiles. Looking at the evolution of missile prowess in North Korea, one sees "the same evolution in Iran," Obering said. He sees missile technology being passed from North Korea to Iran.
- In assessing his five main goals when he took over as MDA director in 2004, Obering — who steps down from the directorship later this year — said the first goal of protecting the United States against missiles from North Korea is just about done, and so is a goal of erecting a shield against missiles emanating from that region. But there is only partial progress toward erecting a shield against missiles from nations such as Iran. Expanding protection of Europe is a fourth major goal, and he also wishes to see expanded protection of allies generally.
- Missile defense tests have scored repeated, consecutive successes, where interceptors have destroyed target missiles. Even counting earlier, less successful days, there still were 34 hits and only 8 failures, which weren’t caused by basic interceptor system flaws but rather stemmed from factors such as human error or problems with target missiles.
- The Kinetic Energy Interceptor, or KEI, is winning greater acceptance in Congress. While KEI began development as an alternative system to kill enemy missiles in their vulnerable boost phase just after launch (before they have a chance to spew out multiple warheads, decoys or chaff), KEI now is gaining support as a system to take down enemy weapons later in their ballistic trajectories.