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Blocking The Ballistic Threat
The Missile Defense Agency has developed a multifaceted strategy to accomplish its mission. Spiral development in two-year blocks allows the agency to refine program objectives as technology becomes available.
By Peter A. Buxbaum
The MDA has developed a multifaceted strategy to accomplish its mission. The weaponry it is developing emphasizes hit-to-kill technology. Layered defenses address the interception of enemy missiles at different segments in their trajectory. Spiral development in two-year blocks allows the agency to refine program objectives as technology becomes available.
There were eighty foreign ballistic missile launches around the world in 2005, according to MDA director Air Force Lieutenant General Henry A. Obering III. Sixty of those involved short-range ballistic missiles, 10 involved medium- and intermediate-range missiles, and 10 involved long-range ballistic missiles, he noted in Congressional testimony earlier this year. “North Korea and Iran have not relented in their pursuit of longer-range ballistic missiles,” Obering asserted. “Our current and near-term missile defense fielding activities are a direct response to these dangers.”
Hit-to-kill weapons, instead of carrying an explosive warhead, rely on kinetic energy to collide with and destroy its target. The force of the collision, in other words, rather than explosive force, pulverizes the target warhead. The MDA is also developing an airborne laser, which uses directed energy to destroy a target.
MDA’s layered defense strategy addresses the three aspects of ballistic missile flight: the boost, midcourse and terminal phases. This strategy endeavors to develop capabilities to attack missiles in all stages of flight, thus maximizing the advantages of the missile defense system over an aggressor’s weapon.
Spiral development supports an evolutionary acquisition approach which promotes improving the effectiveness of defensive capabilities over time. This block development scheme allows planning for incremental improvements in capabilities and focusing on integration activities.
Taken together, the Missile Defense Agency is seeking to field a Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) that includes a set of complementary interceptors, land-,
sea-, air- and space-based sensors, and a battle management command and control system, in order “to engage all classes and ranges of ballistic missile threats,” according to an MDA document.
All five of the major defense contractors—Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and General Dynamics—are participating in developing the BMDS, with none of them serving as prime contractor, according to Air Force Brigadier General Robert Dehnert, MDA’s deputy director for Command, Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC). By consent of all the companies, Lockheed serves as the team leader.
“The idea was born out of the need to be able to solve a wide variety of and range of technical problems, none inherently in the domain of any one of the five companies,” Dehnert explained. “All five have populated the team with their best people. They are able to reach back and put forward ideas and options to problems we are facing. As a result, we are able solve problems quickly and at less cost than otherwise. It’s like having five hall-of-fame coaches to coach your team.”
Spiral development of the BMDS through two-year blocks simplifies the development of a missile defense system that “is horribly complex,“ according to Larry Dickerson, a senior analyst at Forecast International in Newtown, Conn. “The block effort enables the U.S. to deploy a defensive shield in steps,” he noted. “Each block adds additional capabilities to the overall system.”
It also allows for developmental flexibility. “What is contained in a given block is not set in stone,” Dickerson added. “When a portion of the system is ready it can be introduced without waiting for all other elements to be completed. These blocks are in constant motion and can change from year to year.”
Thus, a top focus of Block 2004, which encompassed acquisitions during the 2004 and 2005 calendar years, was in creating an initial capability for a ground-based midcourse system, specifically designed to counter a North Korean threat, according to Dehnert. In Block 2006, which covers calendar years 2006 and 2007, that capability will be expanded to a sea-based system.
“A variant of the ground-based systems deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and at Fort Greely in Alaska will be deployed to Aegis ships by the Navy,” said Dehnert.
Six Aegis ships, three cruisers and three destroyers, will be equipped with the Long Range Surveillance and Tracking (LRS&T) capability, as well as the engagement capability, which involves the ability to launch the SM-3 intercepting missiles, by the end of this year. In addition, 10 Aegis destroyers will be equipped with LRS&T. By the end of 2008, 18 Aegis ships, 15 destroyers and three cruisers, will be fully equipped with both LRS&T and SM-3 interceptor capabilities.
Dehnert’s focus is on developing and deploying a battle management and communications system that will enable all of the data collected by sensors to be shared by other nodes on the network including battle managers. “Once we have the sensors all networked and connected to shooters,“ he explained, “we will have the ability to use those resources more wisely. If we face multiple threats, we will be able to allocate radar and intercepts better for the benefit of battle managers.”
Dehnert uses a football analogy to explain the difference between current battle management systems and the one he is building. “In a football game, offensive and defensive coaches on the sidelines might be able to show pictures to their players of earlier plays, in order to show them what happened and what to do differently,” he said. “My system will be like providing real-time information directly to players through their helmets. That way, players can adjust immediately to a particular play.
“What we did in Block 2004 was to populate the playing field with skilled players,” Dehnert continued. “What we’re doing now in Block 2006 is to network them so that their play can improve dramatically.”
It took 21 months from the birth of the idea of the need for a system for missile defense situational awareness to the fielding of what Dehnert described as a “rudimentary but effective” system. One screen view, he said, gives the user a panoramic situational picture that spans 17 time zones. The system has been installed in the White House, the Pentagon command center, the U.S. Strategic Command, as well as the Northern Command. “Without that foundation we would be unable to defend against a North Korean threat,” he contended.
Next steps for Dehnert include incremental enhancements to the command and control software that will network forward-based sensors so that their data can be shared with other network components. Another software enhancement will endeavor to sequence combat activities. “Our capabilities will become much more sophisticated,” he said, “so that we can counter threats not only from North Korea, but also from Iran.”
Another upcoming endeavor, in 2007, will be to launch two Space Track and Surveillance Satellites (SSTS). “These will give warfighters a God’s-eye view,” Dehnert commented. “The system has been in test mode for the last two years. It’s a central part my job to make sure that once these new systems have been tested they can be plugged into the battle management and communications system once they are fielded.”
Building a Ballistic Missile Defense System also includes an international dimension. “In the layered defense we are charged to build, the more layers the better,” Dehnert said. “We need to be aware of all systems that are being developed worldwide.”
Dehnert chairs the NATO missile defense committee, a true cat-bird seat from which he can observe international missile defense efforts and through which he is in a position to dialog with the Japanese, Australians, British, Italians and others who are working on missile defense. MDA is working on enhancements to the SM-3 interceptor missile with the Japan Defense Agency.
“We want to be able to exploit the richness of whatever they bring and make sure they are interoperable with U.S. systems,“ he said. “I have the responsibility of making sure that the additional layers to our defense in depth bring value to the system as a whole and to make sure that whatever is built will be a welcome addition.”
As for the future, Dehnert sees continually “adding new systems and constantly increasing and improving data sharing between assets.” Among the projects in the works include those that cue radar systems to point in the direction of perceived threats and others that more efficiently pass data on to shooters.
“We want to increasing the usefulness of data,” Dehnert said. Returning to the football analogy, he added, “We want to be putting more players on the field. By increasing the usefulness of data, we want them to be acting more efficiently once they are out on the field.”