The Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) draft FY ’19 defense authorization bill would require the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to develop a space-based missile defense intercept layer regardless of what the upcoming Missile Defense Review (MDR) calls for.
The Senate panel’s provision withdraws the statutory flexibility on this variety of boost-phase intercept capability provided in the FY ’18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which said the MDA should start working on the capability only “if consistent with the direction or recommendations of the Ballistic Missile Defense Review that commenced in 2017.”
The FY ’18 language focused on a space-based interceptor layer that is regionally focused, capable of providing boost-phase intercept, and “achieves an operational capability at the earliest practicable date.”
This provision was added as an amendment in the committee markup, passing 16-11. Opponents were made up of Democrats while those in favor included all Republicans plus Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), and Sen. Joe Donnely (D-Ind.).
Last March, Gen John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, testified before the SASC strategic forces subcommittee that while he is a proponent on boost-phase intercept overall he’s agnostic about the actual technical solution and is not sure space-based interceptors are needed.
“I’m convinced space-based sensors are absolutely required, I’m not convinced at this time that space-based interceptors are required, but the requirement is there, I will advocate for that requirement.”
Hyten said the upcoming MDR will talk about boost-phase interception in more detail and outline the Defense Department and administration’s approach to the issue. After it is released, there will be more discussion on where people agree and disagree, but “we really need to missile defense review to start that discussion.”
The administration began a new missile defense review last year and its expected to release it this summer. It will be a more expansive document than the last Ballistic Missile Defense Review from 2010, focusing on a wider range of threats, policy responses, and strategies.
Last summer during the Space and Missile Defense Sympsoium, Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, who had recently been installed as director of MDA, focused on directed energy weapons as a potential boost-phase intercept capability (Defense Daily, Aug. 9, 2017).
Greaves said boost-phase interception has to undergo policy and operational concept development before it can become a true capability and said the agency has “to ensure that collectively we set expectations and then deliver as we have promised. No wild speculation on space-based interceptors showing up tomorrow.”