February 12, 2014
On the heels of last year’s humiliating third failure of the premier U.S. missile defense system during what was billed as a fairly simple flight trial, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is doubling down on the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program by adding more than $4.5 billion to the Missile Defense Agency’s coffers from fiscal 2015-2019, according to Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
Thus far, the Pentagon has spent more than $157 billion developing various missile defenses, a portion of it on GMD technologies.
In the Pentagon’s forthcoming budget request, which is slated for delivery next month to Congress, Hagel is planning to specifically request higher funding for GMD, according to defense sources. The goal is to turn the tide in what some say has become an atrophied focus on testing and evolving technology for the program, and hopefully score an intercept this spring.
Additionally, he will propose at least $1.5 billion across the plan to develop a new radar to spot missiles from North Korea, while potentially shifting the massive, floating Space-Based X-Band system to the East Coast to monitor for attacks from an increasingly bellicose Iran.
Missile Defense Agency (MDA) spokesman Rick Lehner declined to discuss fiscal 2015 budget specifics until delivered to Congress. But sources speaking on background due to the sensitivity of the subject are painting a picture of what is ahead for the agency.
MDA’s budget was expected to dip as low as about $7 billion or less, down from a steady $9 billion years before. But much of that is slated to be restored, thanks in part to concern from Hagel that GMD was being shortchanged.
As the only measure of defending the homeland against a North Korean or Iranian ICBM attack, any failure of the GMD system, managed by Boeing, is a national embarrassment. The system’s inability on July 5, 2013, to repeat a relatively simple test that it had already successfully conducted five years earlier, however, was a genuine shame. Hagel had hastily ordered the test last March in response to saber rattling from Pyongyang, and it was intended to showcase the Pentagon’s unique ability to shield U.S. territory.
Instead, it raised questions about the effectiveness of a small fleet of GMD interceptors on alert at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Thirty have been emplaced, including four in California.
This test was akin to the “glory missions” of the U.S. Minuteman III ICBM, where officials take an active missile on alert and put it through its paces to validate effectiveness; a secondary effect is a worldwide reminder of its capabilities. In this case for GMD, however, the Raytheon Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) failed even to separate from the Orbital Sciences Booster. “We were doing this in the ‘60s,” said one industry source, noting vehicle separation is hardly the hardest part of an intercept attempt. Some hypothesize that a clamp, or other relatively unsophisticated hardware, was to blame for the failure of the $200 million test. An investigation into the mishap still has not concluded.