As a result, Hagel is adding more funding to GMD to shore up monitoring and modernization activities as well as evolve the system’s capability, defense sources say. It is no longer acceptable to the Pentagon’s leadership to take risk in the program. “What failed … was the culmination of a five-year process failure — a huge process failure between the Defense Department and the [Capitol Hill] — that has led to the suspension of the normal redesign and reengineering activities on GMD,” one official said after last year’s test failure.
The Pentagon will effectively be stuck with today’s configuration — including a prickly EKV Capability Enhancement (CE) I baseline version — for years; it achieved eight of 14 intercept attempts. And two of the three GMD failures since 2008 have been with the CE-II — an upgrade shrouded in secrecy that is thought to have added capability — possibly improved maneuverability — to defeat countermeasures. The Pentagon’s chief tester, Michael Gilmore, goes so far as to recommend a redesign of EKV in his fiscal 2013 report to Congress.
But it seems senior defense officials see their only way out of the conundrum as embarking on a path beyond EKV, a so-called Common Kill Vehicle (CKV). Though the fiscal 2014 budget included funding to embark on such a program — dubbed common as the equipment might be shared between the GMD and SM-3 Aegis interceptors — the program’s fate was not certain. Now, however, Hagel’s guidance is to move forward with an EKV replacement, the defense source says. “We need a comprehensive kill vehicle strategy.”
A question that remains to be answered is whether this kill vehicle will be unitary — like EKV, designed to counter a single warhead — or capable of deploying multiple baby kill vehicles, allowing each interceptor to attack a larger number of threats. Ideally, defense officials and lawmakers hope to deploy it around 2020, the defense official says.
Lackluster reliability by GMD is due, in part, to the system’s burgeoning status. GMD is a hybrid developmental and deployed system. A decade ago, President George W. Bush proclaimed “limited defensive operations,” a moniker unique to GMD intended to evoke a sense of operational capability. It was rushed into service to underpin a policy deterring adversaries from buying, developing or using ballistic missiles. Unlike the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense program — which was sidelined for nearly a decade for redesigns — the White House refuses to take GMD “offline” to narrow the program’s focus.
Full backing of a CKV capability does not translate to abandoning EKV; it will likely be improved over the next decade to boost reliability.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon also is planning to propose a program to develop and deploy a new radar in the Pacific region. Dubbed the Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR), the system would most likely be place in Alaska, though a decision has yet to be made. It will be designed to differentiate between incoming warheads and countermeasures, devices designed specifically to fool radars into guiding interceptors against false targets. This system would augment the Upgraded Early Warning Radar at Beale AFB, Calif., which operates at ultra-high-frequencies, a forward-based AN/TPY-2 X-band system, the floating Sea-Based X-band (SBX) radar and the Cobra Dane L-band system. Aegis ships also patrol in the region with their SPY-1 sensors.
A program such as LRDR likely would take advantage of advances in radar developments and manufacturing to produce a highly reliable and sensitive system. Advances in transmit-and-receive modules, semiconductors and active, electronically scanned arrays have matured since SBX was crafted in the late 1990s. A main problem with SBX was spotty reliability. The system was designed to help engineers test GMD’s capabilities, not for a round-the-clock alert. As both GMD and the threat from Pyongyang matured, officials want a more stable system on alert status.
This would allow for MDA to deploy SBX to the East Coast, satisfying a concern among some lawmakers that homeland ICBM defenses against Iran are inadequate.