The GBI has not successfully intercepted a target since December 2008. The most recent issue was with the next-generation EKV's gyro guidance system, which will be tested against a target again late this year. Boeing has delivered 48 booster stacks, but production and assembly of the EKV has been on hold since January 2011 while engineers worked to fix to the gyro issue. In the meantime, Hagel announced a test of the GBI with its existing EKV in the summer.
Advances in miniaturization as well as in the focal plane arrays used by interceptors to discriminate their targets in space and propulsion systems could point to a new kill vehicle design that is easier to produce and more reliable, industry sources say. Goals will be to destroy maneuvering targets and achieve a volume kill.
“The focus will be not on the state of the art but on what is doable with today's technology, in a smarter way ,” says one industry official. “The IIB program was ill conceived.”
This shift also effectively restores the U.S. missile defense architecture to that left by Bush, though his plans were to place the third GBI site in Poland rather than in the U.S. Missile defense advocates applaud the reversion; many say the SM-3 IIB plan was exposing the U.S. right flank to a vulnerability, as the interceptor was slated to be fielded in 2022.
Hagel says all 14 new interceptors will be at Fort Greely in 2017. Conservative intelligence estimates suggest an ICBM attack from Iran could come as early as 2015. Ayotte and other lawmakers say the administration should proceed with adding the 14 interceptors and building a third site on the East Coast. But she wants to continue SM-3 IIB work until that third site is functional.
Third-site options are Fort Drum, N.Y., and Caribou, Maine, the hometown of Sen. Susan Collins (R) near the Canadian border. Obering suggests that the so-called Ground-Based Radar-Prototype built by Raytheon and now used at the Kwajalein Atoll for testing, could provide significant sensor coverage if moved to the East Coast. Congressional sources say moving that radar and setting it up would cost about $400 million.
However, missile defense advocates say the wording of Congress's direction to conduct an environmental impact review of East Coast sites does not restrict the Pentagon to a GMD solution. It could also allow for land-basing of the SM-3 IBs now being tested or the larger, more maneuverable SM-3 IIA being developed jointly with Japan. The fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directs the Pentagon to study the need for three more missile defense sites in the U.S., two of them on the East Coast.
Along with basing some Thaad batteries on the coast, this could provide defense against a ship-launched missile.
But Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee, contends that the Pentagon's study could conclude that a third site in the lower 48 states is not required. “There's a couple things underway that may show we don't need a site,” Levin says.