Missile Defense Agency Director Outlines Priorities, Threats

The United States is able to defend against current threats from ballistic missiles, but increased capabilities are needed to address emerging risks, the head of the Missile Defense Agency said here yesterday.

“The enemy continues to test at a very rapid pace; they continue to learn, and we should all be very cognizant of that,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves said at the ninth annual McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs conference here.

“Within the Missile Defense Agency, the first priority we’ve got is to continue focusing on increasing system reliability and warfighting confidence,” he told the forum.

Other priorities, Greaves said, include increasing engagement capacity and capability, and addressing advanced threats.

The U.S. ballistic missile defense system provides the nation with active defense capabilities that incorporate a variety of sensors with ground- and sea-based interceptor missiles to track, engage and destroy ballistic missiles.

“We absolutely believe that the ballistic missile defense system meets today’s threat but we need additional capability to stay ahead of the evolving threat,” he said.

North Korea ‘Not Afraid to Fail’

Failed missile tests can provide a trove of information that can lead to successes, Greaves said. North Korea is “not afraid to fail” and has been demonstrating capability at a very rapid pace, Greaves said.

“My only hope is that they’re not learning as much about failure as we are learning when we fail, because I will tell you that there’s a tremendous amount of learning that goes on when we fail,” he said.

The general pointed out the agency has a wide array of systems designed to defend the nation and its allies. It hopes to extend its sensors into space, he said, and to work in coordination with ground-based systems to fill gaps in sensors.

“It all boils down to the need to have birth-to-death custody of the threat as it’s coming your way, he said.”

Look Beyond ‘Classic Set of Capabilities’

Greaves highlighted his agency’s desire to instill confidence with the men and women in the fight. “The Missile Defense Agency starts and ends with the warfighter, the combatant commanders,” Greaves said.

Sophisticated ballistic missile technology is available on a wider scale than ever before to countries hostile to the U.S. and its allies, according to the MDA’s threat assessment. “As those countries continue to develop and exchange this technology, there is also an increasing threat of those technologies falling into the hands of hostile non-state groups,” the assessment notes.

The proliferation of ballistic missiles is increasing the number of anti-access weapons available to potential regional adversaries, according to the agency. These weapons could be used to reduce military options for combatant commanders and decrease the survivability of regional military assets.

In addition, technological advances are now making hypersonic glide vehicles and missiles flying non-ballistic trajectories practicable, the agency reports.

A new threat demands a new approach, Greaves said.

“When you look to the future, you will need to look broader than the classic set of capabilities,” he said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)