The director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) told Congress last week that he sees F-35 aircraft helping aid missile defense activities in the six to seven-year timeframe, albeit mostly for sensor tracking.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves said he sees deployed systems like the F-35 and its distributed aperture system (DAS), “if not a gamechanger, a significant contributor to future ballistic missile defense capability.”
Greaves said that in discussions with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, they agreed that in just about any area of responsibility, F-35s would be deployed to mitigate a conflict, in which case they would likely be available for help in missile defense missions.
The Northrop Grumman [NOC] AN/AAQ-37 360-degree DAS detects infrared emissions of a boosting rocket, has computers that can pinpoint its location, and use network connections to transmit tracking data elsewhere in the force.
The F-35s are “platforms with significant capability” and MDA’s job “is to look outside of the classic missile defense system, the THAAADS, and the LRDRs” and look for sensors or shooters that would be able to contribute, when integrated into the BMDS [Ballistic Missile Defense System], Greaves said
“And we see the F-35 as one such platform and we’ve been working with the Air Force for at least the last few months.”
Greaves said the timeline for potentially integrating F-35s into the missile defense architecture is “six to seven years to essentially work the concept of operations,” develop capabilities – either sensor-based or a “new fast missile that’s hung on the bottom of an F-35,” integrate the capabilities, test them, and deliver them into the theater for operations.
MDA sees the opportunity to leverage any capability, like DAS on the F-35, to be integrated with the BMDS sensors and provide engagement-quality information for interceptors.
“So it’s a tremendous potential that we’re going after,” Greaves said.
Separately, Greaves said regarding Russian and Chinese hypersonic missile threats “it’s just a matter of time before they have fully developed the capability and operationalized it.” Moreover, he finds a similar risk of that technology proliferating the North Korea or Iran.
“I assess that risk as extremely high. I don’t see what will prevent it from happening. And that is why, with my boss, Dr. Mike Griffin, I believe that the hypersonic threat is something that we need to address expediently.” Griffin is the under secretary of defense for Research and Engineering.
Greaves underscored the hypersonic threat is a primary reason driving MDA’s thinking on the need to move its sensor capability to space, in addition to ground sensors.
Upon questioning from Ranking Member Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Greaves explained more details about the construction delays in the Poland missile defense site.
In March, Greaves told the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee that a military construction delay at the Aegis Ashore facility in Poland is pushing back the European Phase Adaptive Approach’s (EPAA) Phase 3 Technical Capability Direction by two years (Defense Daily, March 23).
This week, Greaves explained this was due to less than expected performance from the construction contractor. MDA is working with the company’s CEO to improve the performance. He highlighted a slow ramp up in manpower and resources and some of the worst rain weather in five to 10 years for the delays.
The director said he is not concerned this delay will lead to a defensive capability gap in Europe based on the current threat from Iran. Greaves added he would be more concerned if the missile and nuclear threat were greater.