Republicans are floating the idea of giving contractors vying for future business a new task and making a kill vehicle that could work on two missile defense systems.
, and are all in the process of developing plans for the final phase of the Obama administration’s phased adaptive approach, the SM-3 Block IIB.
Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) suggests that Congress tell the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to ask for development of a kill vehicle for the SM-3 Block IIB that can also work on theSystem (GMD).
“Because the IIB kill vehicle must be made smaller than the current GBI kill vehicle — to fit into the smaller SM-3 missile — there is an opportunity to put multiple kill vehicles on the [Ground-based Interceptor], thus significantly improving the GMD system,” Kyl said this week during a speech at the Capitol Hill Club. “I intend to work with the armed services committee to see to it that MDA explores the feasibility of this approach, which would mean a real, serious upgrade to the GBI.”
Kyl appears to have some support at least on the House side of the Capitol. The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its version of the defense bill April 26.
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the subcommittee chairman, “believes as well that we need to continue to modernize our missile defense capabilities,” his spokesman Tom Crosson says in an email. But Crosson would not comment on the specifics of Kyl’s proposal.
A congressional aide says Kyl’s approach makes sense for a couple of reasons. A warhead for the IIB would be far smaller than GBI’s current exo-atmospheric kill vehicle, which is having difficulties in testing. The smaller size could then allow room on a GBI for two or more kill vehicles, which would double the firepower, the aide says. Not only that, but the current GBI kill vehicle was developed more than a decade ago. A new kill vehicle would help ensure that parts for the GBI’s system do not become obsolete, he says.
The aide suggests that this could be a political compromise to the Democratic administration’s support for the phased adaptive approach and the Republican support for GMD.
“Instead of [exo-atmospheric kill vehicle], let’s call it [adaptable kill vehicle],” the aide says.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) alluded to the idea in an exchange with MDA Director U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly during an April 18 Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing. O’Reilly testified that a redesign of GMD’s exo-atmospheric kill vehicle has slowed testing on the overall program.
“It’s my understanding that the EKV was never meant to be the permanent kill vehicle for GMD, and the current system is heavier, less capable and less reliable than I think it can or should be,” Shelby said, asking whether the U.S. is locked into this version.
O’Reilly endorsed the ability of the current system, saying it could be made a “very viable, reliable system” that the military can use for decades. “On the other hand, I also believe that as technologies have moved on we haven’t taken advantage of those technologies,” he said.
O’Reilly added that the SM-3 Block IIB would give the military the opportunity to apply the latest technologies to smaller, more capable kill vehicles as well as the possibility of more than a single interceptor, depending on the size of the booster.