The U.S. will most certainly reap rewards from its investments in Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense ( ) and the Navy for ballistic missile defense systems, especially in the Pacific regions, a recent National Research Council report concludes.
However, the nation should abandon or curtail other ballistic missile defense (BMD) efforts or concepts such as the space-based Precision Tracking and Surveillance System (PTSS) or those focused on boost-phase missile interceptions, the report notes.
The NRC report also states that earlier phases of the proposed U.S. BMD plan to protect European allies through the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) should work if the right technology is in place. But, a caution is sounded about the final EPAA phase.
The U.S. Navy and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) awarded contracts and modifications for at least $2.3 billion worth of missiles, BMD research and Aegis system-related work in July and August, according to Pentagon reports.
The potential cumulative total for those contracts now approaches about $3.9 billion, those reports show.
Altogether, the proposed Navy acquisition programs for the ships, radars and combat systems for BMD and related missions could be worth $121.8 billion or more in the coming decades, according to government analysts. Add in the missiles the government plans to buy and that total could rise to as much as $127.3 billion, according to an Aviation Week review and analysis of government reports.
“There is a huge demand for BMD ships,” says Capt. Jim Kilby, Navy BMD requirements officer.
The Navy and nation should stay on course for Aegis BMD, according to the NRC report “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives,” released Sept. 11.
“As a means to defend deployed U.S. forces and allies from short- medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missile threats, the Missile Defense Agency and the services should continue investing in non-boost systems such as Aegis, Terminal Thaad and, with continued attention to architecture integration of sensors with shooters (sometimes referred to as an integrated battle command system), specifically to implement launch-on-remote and engage-on-remote firing doctrines,” the report states.
Aegis-equipped vessels are particularly suited to protect the Pacific, the report notes.
“The Aegis ship-based SM-3 Block II interceptors with launch or engage on remote—both of which capabilities are under development—together with the Thaad and PAC-3 systems and their elements will provide, where appropriate, adequate coverage for defense of U.S. and allied deployed forces and of Asian allies,” the report states.
A North Korean ICBM aimed at Hawaii and some other Pacific locations could be intercepted in boost phase by a properly located Aegis ship, the report avers, although further backup would likely be needed.
As to other areas of the world, the report states: “Coverage of Israel and other Middle East areas against the anticipated threat will require additional Aegis and Thaad assets.
The NRC document was more critical of other BMD programs, stating: “MDA should terminate the PTSS unless a more convincing case can be made for its efficacy for the mission that it is supposed to carry out.
“PTSS provides no information that a combination of the Space-Based Infrared System () and the proposed suite of X-band radars with the interceptor sensors will not provide better and at lower cost both initially and over the life cycle.”
Other BMD efforts show promise, according to the report, but those programs will need some improvements.
“The first three phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) are expected to provide defense for Europe against a limited ballistic missile attack for deployed U.S. and allied forces within the region and the Middle East, provided the sensor architecture and the missile defense command and control (C2) center for the European PAA architecture can implement engage-on-remote capability,” the report notes.
“If modestly sophisticated countermeasures are anticipated for the IRBM (intermediate-range ballistic missile threat), then the European PAA will need to include multiple X-band radar and long-range IR (infrared) sensors that can provide concurrent data on IRBM trajectories similar to the countermeasures proposed for U.S. national missile defense,” the report states.
However, the report contends, “Phase IV of the European PAA may not be the best way to improve U.S. homeland defense. The speed of the Phase IV interceptor will need to be greater than can be achieved with a 21-in. missile to avoid being overflown by lofted ICBM trajectories from Iran if the interceptor is based in northern Europe (Poland).”