NDAA Makes Missile Defense Policy Changes

The fiscal year 2018 defense bill passed by both Houses of Congress authorizes numerous changes and directives to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), including studies to expand missile defense fields.

The conference-agreed FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizes $12.3 billion in spending for the MDA, $4.4 billion over the administration’s request. It boosts the number of interceptors for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors, and SM-3 Block IIAs.

The Senate passed the conference report on Nov. 16, sending it to President Donald Trump for signing after the house passed the bill earlier in the week.

It notably authorizes up to 28 more GMD Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) and requires the Secretary of Defense to develop a plan to increase that to upwards of 104 interceptors.

The GMD system currently includes two missile defense sites with 44 interceptors total: a small one based at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. and a larger set of interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska. The MDA and Boeing [BA] installed the final GBI at Fort Greely earlier in November.

One NDAA provision specifically requires the Defense Secretary to increase the number of GBIs by up to 28 and identify a stockpile storage site that could hold up to eight spare GBIs.

The provision also requires the MDA director to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on infrastructure requirements and associated costs with increasing the number of GBIs at Missile Fields 1 and 2 at Fort Greely to 20 interceptors each. The House added an amendment authorizing the Secretary of Defense to procure up to 28 GBIs, if consistent with the recommendations of the upcoming Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR).

This also eliminates several reporting requirements, including on items like transportable ground-based interceptors and supplementing ground-based midcourse defense elements with more distributed elements. This is done to help eliminate duplicative reports already submitted to the committees.

Importantly, the bill makes several changes on missile defense programs administration. It first amends the US Code by creating a new section to establish a unified major force program for missile defense and defeat programs.

The same section requires the secretary to submit a report on these programs for fiscal years 2019-2023. It also requires the Secretary of Defense to transfer acquisition authority and total obligation authority for each program under this provision from the MDA to a military department by the date the president’s budget is submitted for FY 2021.

Under this provision on administration of missile defense program, the secretary is also directed to submit a report to the defense committees on the plans for this transition by one year after the NDAA is enacted.

Lastly, it changes the term of the director of the MDA to six years and requires they report to and be under the authority of the under secretary of defense for research and engineering.

The NDAA conference report highlighted “that previous transitions of missile defense acquisitions to the military services have a poor track record and the conferees encourage the Missile Defense Agency and the Department of Defense to take extra precautions to ensure the transitioned programs are handled appropriately with sound management and oversight mechanisms.”

A provision of the House version of the FY 2018 NDAA required the secretary to determine the location of a potential additional U.S. GMD interceptor site within 30 days after the upcoming BMDR is issued. The section also required the secretary to submit a report to the defense committees within 30 days after the site determination is made. The Senate agreed to this provision but the final NDAA gives the secretary 60 days after the BMDR to designate a potential third site.

The bill also requires the director of the MDA also coordinate with the Secretary of the Air Force and other appropriate agency heads to develop a space-based sensor layer for ballistic missile defense. The provision requires the director to develop a reliable and cost-effective persistent space-based sensor architecture capable of supporting the missile defense system with functions that include precision tracking of threat missiles, discrimination of warheads, effective kill assessment, enhanced shot doctrine, and integration between all missile defense systems including THAAD, Aegis, Patriot, and GMD.

The director is required to submit a plan to Congress within one year of the bill’s enactment describing how the agency will develop a space sensor layer and an assessment of the maturity of technologies needed for making the sensors system operational.

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