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Op-Ed: The revolution of missile defense

A Standard Missile (SM) 3 Block IIA is launched from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii, Dec. 10, 2018, to successfully intercept an intermediate-range ballistic missile target in space. (Mark Wright/Missile Defense Agency)
March 12, 2019

A dynamic and competitive cauldron of multiple global and national factors has force-functioned the revolution of missile defense that now departs a 20-year era to develop a limited and linear system with restricted policies against the limited ballistic missile threats of North Korea and Iran.

The agents of change to create this new nexus of missile defense have been increased cost efficiency, a risk adverse- and capability-driven acquisition process, proliferation of new missile technologies, dependency on space, Chinese and Russian policies, and the deployment and advancement of complex cross-domain offensive missile platforms to change the status quo.

There was a tipping point that has been reflected with the withdrawal of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, as well as the implementation of new U.S. polices from the National Defense Strategy, the Missile Defense Review, and the Space Policy Directive-4 to lead to the creation of a U.S. Space Force.

A generational leap of leadership and technology is being made by the United States, with its allies and partners following and also contributing, to best deny and negate attempts to change the world’s status quo by near-peers (Russia and China) and rogue nation actors (North Korea and Iran).

The missile defense revolution starts with a new global battle management, command and control system that fuses all sensors and radars across all domains to provide the best firing solutions and uses artificial intelligence to allocate those solutions to missile defense operators.

A constellation comprised of hundreds of small satellites in low earth orbit, mixed in with commercial satellite launches to reduce cost, will provide a global and persistent capability to track and discriminate missiles traveling through space and in the Earth’s atmosphere.

These constellations will provide birth to death tracking and firing solutions for all missile threats launched from anywhere at any time – and possibly intercept platforms in the future – including Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGV), the most complex ballistic missiles, low flying over the horizon maneuverable cruise missiles, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

The applied development and use of new kinetic interceptors and directed energy off of UAV platforms in the upper atmosphere from stand-off ranges enables tremendous cost efficiency and lethality.

The potential for boost-phase missile defense and persistent overhead sensors in the lower atmosphere by F-35 aircraft and UAVs could provide exponential increases in lethality, cost savings and efficiency because of the large capacity of these systems already in our forces and with our allies.

Enabling the under layer of 38 Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ships and soon-to-be three land-based Aegis Ashore sites, along with our allies, using “launch on remote” processors with layers of Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) and SM-3 interceptors, to include the SM-3 Block IIA that will be tested against an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) target in 2020, is an exponential crisis game changer with its mobility and 360-degree capability.

The needed development and integration of composite missile defense systems with multiple layered interceptors to include electronic, laser and kinetic with 360-degree radars that can do fixed point defense of air fields and mobile defense for combat brigade teams is taking place for the first time in more than 20 years. In this revolution is still the backbone and backstop of increasing the reliability of the Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs), with the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) leading to the Multiple Object Kill Vehicle (MOKV).

A revolution that forces change and shifts paradigms of past ways, past thinking, and past systems has taken place. The United States and its partners and allies are in a better place, a safer place for it.

Riki Ellison is founder and chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a nonprofit organization launched in 2002 to promote the evolution, development and deployment of missile defense. Since its founding, the MDAA has grown to more than 14,000 members worldwide and is viewed as the top lay expert voice on missile defense.

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