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Interceptor Needs Work in Efficiency, Cost-Effectiveness

Interceptor Needs Work in Efficiency, Cost-Effectiveness

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Thursday, 10 October 2019 03:08 PM Current | Bio | Archive

My Newsmax Article last week agreed that Loren B. Thompson had correctly observed that the Pentagon’s programs were deficient for improving our current Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD), but argued that we have better less expensive alternatives that can be deployed sooner than the undefined so-called Next Generation Interceptor.

I respect Dr. Thompson, and his views deserve serious attention. But given my longtime association with missile defense issues, I dispute some of his observations.

For example, one of my recommended alternative approaches contradicts his argument that our current GMD is our only system "capable of intercepting long-range ballistic missiles headed for America."

My second recommended alternative was a more capable, less expensive ballistic missile defense (BMD) system than the Next Generation Interceptor Thompson described — and we can build it sooner.

Thompson’s Oct. 8, 2019 Forbes follow-on article, "Inside The U.S. Missile Defense Agency's Secret Next Generation Interceptor," reported that it will carry multiple defensive kill vehicles to intercept multiple attacking warheads our adversaries may deploy to overcome our existing defenses.

If true, this moves in the right direction — but we know how to do better. Consider a few more facts about my previous recommendations.

First, our sea-based BMD system — now deployed on about 40 Aegis destroyers and cruisers around the world (and that number could double in the future) can intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), if their crews are trained and ready.

The Navy has intercepted ballistic missiles above the atmosphere while they are still rising in their ascent phase. And in 2008, the operational crew of the USS Lake Erie, an Aegis BMD Cruiser, shot down a satellite orbiting faster than an ICBM traversing outer space.

So, our Aegis BMD ships can intercept ICBMs above the atmosphere.

Our Navy crews just need to train to exploit fully this capability if it arises during their normal operations—especially when near or in our coastal waters. But this capability already exists, if we have the wit to exploit it.

And as noted last week, Aegis BMD components can be deployed in a ground-based mode to help defend America, just as Aegis Ashore sites now protect our allies in Romania and Poland.

These systems, like all other BMD systems that intercept attacking ballistic missiles in outer space, potentially must defeat daunting offensive countermeasures — especially including numerous light weight decoys, difficult to distinguish from threat warheads.

As best as I can see, the Next Generation Interceptor will have this same problem when we actually get it in 6-10 years if Thompson’s Oct. 8 article correctly reflects the government’s optimistic plans and if its development goes well.

For my part, I would rather bet on meeting that schedule with a space-based BMD concept that 30 years ago survived exhaustive technical reviews within the Pentagon and by outside highly qualified skeptical technologists.

And in 1990, the Pentagon’s top acquisition executive approved Brilliant Pebbles as a Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP) to enter a concept demonstration and validation (DemVal) phase.

Unlike the concepts Thompson indicated are now being considered, Brilliant Pebbles was designed to intercept ballistic missiles during their "boost phase" while their rockets still burn as they rise from their launch pads, before they can release decoys and other offensive countermeasures to defeat defensive systems.

Such a boost-phase intercept capability is clearly needed — and the earliest way to achieve it is to launch interceptors from aircraft, either fighter planes or drones. Hopefully, current programs are developing this important capability.

Brilliant Pebbles could provide this capability — and also intercept attacking missiles above the atmosphere if the countermeasure problem can be solved.

Moreover, 1991-1992 testing demonstrated that Brilliant Pebbles could intercept them after they reenter the atmosphere and high-altitude atmospheric drag strips away light weight decoys.

Thus, our Brilliant Pebbles targeting strategy gave first priority to boost-phase intercept, next to intercept high-altitude attacking warheads as they re-entered the atmosphere and third to exo-atmospheric (above the atmosphere) intercept if offensive countermeasures could be defeated.

Neither of the top two priorities could be met by the Next Generation Interceptor as described by Thompson. But ground-based interceptors also could be given a capability to intercept attacking warheads as they re-enter high in the atmosphere.

The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) considered developing such a possibility on my watch as SDI Director — and was dropped as funding was limited to meet congressional directives in the 1992 National Defense Authorization Act.

The Next Generation Interceptor effort should include such a possibility.

This SDI era should be of current interest and was discussed in considerable detail by the SDI Historian, Donald Baucom, in his "Rise and Fall of Brilliant Pebbles."

In any case, I doubt the Next Generation Interceptor, as described by Dr. Thompson, can achieve anything like the global capabilities of a constellation of 1000 Brilliant Pebbles, nor meet the Pentagon-approved 1990 cost estimate to develop, deploy and operate that constellation for 20 years — $10 billion in 1989 dollars, about $20 billion in today’s dollars.

Hopefully, this challenge will be pursued by Defense Undersecretary for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin, who knows this history as a key participant in the SDI era.

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, Science Adviser to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and a USAF Reserve Captain. 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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HenryFCooper
I doubt the Next Generation Interceptor, as described by Dr. Loren B. Thompson, can achieve anything like the global capabilities of a constellation of 1000 Brilliant Pebbles, nor meet the Pentagon-approved 1990 cost estimate.
brilliant pebbles, sdi, mdap, bmd
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2019-08-10
Thursday, 10 October 2019 03:08 PM
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