On April 10, Jason Sherman reported in Inside Defense that MDA is eyeing the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system “to shoot down enemy long-range ballistic missile during the boost-phase of flight, a technically challenging gambit to add a new defensive layer against North Korean threats and reduce exclusive reliance on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system to protect the United States.”
Such a capability would be most helpful to back up President Trump’s “Peace through Strength” approach to national security, especially as he plans his negotiation to denuclearize North Korea. Just as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) gave enormous leverage to President Reagan’s negotiations with the Soviet Union, advancing our missile defense capabilities can advance our negotiations with North Korea.
Although Sherman’s explicit claim that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is giving these very important Aegis BMD ships “boost-phase” intercept capability is incorrect, his story identifies very important development plans. Indeed, those plans should be accelerated to support the president’s negotiation with Kim Jong Un.
These plans would add significant intercept capability during an attacking ballistic missile’s “ascent-phase,” but not its “boost-phase.” Sherman quoted MDA Director Greaves: "MDA's mission is to explore defensive capabilities in all ranges of flight to include boost and ascent phase."
Some BMD systems, such as those employing the aircraft based interceptors discussed in my last Newsmax article, can achieve a “boost-phase” intercept capability — against attacking missiles while their rockets still burn and they are most vulnerable. This important capability would help counter North Korea’s ballistic missiles, and its development should be accelerated to give negotiating leverage to President Trump.
It could also be helpful if nearby Aegis BMD ships, operated by the U.S. Navy and Japan, also could shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles in their boost phase, as Sherman indicated. But Aegis BMD employs “exo-atmospheric” interceptors that intercept their targets above the atmosphere, during their “ascent phase” as they rise to their highest point or later in their trajectory as they descend toward their targets.
The proposed Aegis BMD effort referred to by Sherman will seek the earliest possible “ascent phase” intercept — after the target missile’s boosting rocket burns out at the end of its boost-phase and as its “payload” coasts toward its highest altitude in outer space — and before its altitude exceeds the reach of the Navy’s Standard Missile-3 (SM-3).
Years ago we tested SM-3 interceptors to prove they can achieve such “ascent phase” intercepts. General Greaves’ proposed initiative, referred to by Sherman, is to assure Aegis BMD ship captains can execute such needed intercepts in the earliest timely way.
The apparent reason for Sherman’s confusion is actually embedded in his article and its report that “MDA has identified a new project — ‘Aegis Launch During Boost’ — to kickoff in fiscal year 2019.”
The proposal is to enable the launch of an Aegis interceptor during an “attacking missile’s boost-phase” (e.g., from North Korea), but the intercept would be later, in “the attacking missile’s ascent phase.”
If aided by forward-based sensors, the captain of a given distant Aegis BMD ship can confidentially launch its interceptors before its associated ship-based radar or other nearby sensors pick up the attacking missile.
This proposed operation is an extension of a quite mature Aegis BMD “launch on remote” capability — where “remote” refers to cuing from distant sensors to trigger the launch of interceptors before their nearby sensors can track an attacking missile.
Making MDA’s excellent idea reality is not a major technical challenge — and it is not expensive. But as Sherman reported, the Pentagon did not fund it in its FY-19 budget; so MDA has included $15 million in a wish list of projects it would prioritize if Congress were inclined to increase missile defense funding in FY-19.
Whatever . . . I believe we need an even more accelerated effort. I urge President Trump to direct Secretary of Defense Mattis to find funds to upgrade our existing Aegis BMD capabilities in time to support his planned discussions with Kim Jong Un.
This would not be the first time for such a presidentially accelerated Aegis BMD initiative. In 2008, President George W. Bush directed the Pentagon to adapt the Aegis BMD program to shoot down a dying satellite — and that impressive feat was accomplished within six or so weeks, by the first generation SM-3 interceptor. This proposal should be possible in less time.
The Aegis BMD system is already a very important U.S. Navy capability, now deployed and operating around the world on some 35 U.S. Aegis cruisers and destroyers, including a number near North Korea — and also on several nearby Japanese Aegis BMD ships.
We should be making them all they can be! ASAP!
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary and Science Advisor to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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