MDA Has Boost-Phase Intercept? Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director Vice Adm. Jon Hill recently confirmed DoD already has a boost-phase missile defense capability, but would not explain what it entails. “Yes, it exists today, just can’t talk about it here…it’s not what you’re thinking, and it’s a big deal and if I talk about it – it’s exploitable. So I’m just not going to say,” Hill said during the annual McAleese Defense Programs conference on March 15. Because it is not what the questioner thought, Hill implied it could be an electronic warfare system rather than kinetic destruction via interceptor missiles. MDA spokesman Mark Wright later said Hill misheard the first question about boost-phase capabilities, believing it was about “why we don’t have any ongoing boost phase experimentation efforts in place, and he was trying to say that we do and haven’t given up on the boost phase issue.” Wright added that “Due to the nature of the experimentation we’re conducting in coordination with USD(R&E), he couldn’t comment beyond that.  We do not have an operational boost phase capability at this time – but we very well may someday if we keep up our research and developmental efforts on that issue.”
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…But Lasers Are Hard. Hill admitted while MDA is making investments in high power microwave and pulsed laser weapons for missile defense, the problem is getting them on target with the energy levels needed. “When you don’t have the laser power you need, you don’t have the beam quality you need, and you don’t have a way to put it on target while they’re maneuvering at really high G levels and very high speeds, that doesn’t come for free.” He added MDA and DoD is “working very hard on scaling up high energy lasers so we can get out of the atmosphere, where you spoil the beam, and kill them in boost phase.” This alludes to the fact that atmospheric issues and weather affect beam quality and reduce a laser weapons’ effectiveness.

…And Confident on NGI vs. NK. Hill said he is still “very confident” in the ability of the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) to target any nuclear missile capabilities North Korea is developing. He noted MDA does not make capabilities based on specific threats for point design, but uses a parametric threats-based look. “So what we do is we bound the kinematics based on physics, we bound what they can do in the IR and EW regime, and that becomes our threat space. And then we test against that in hardware-in-the-loop and modeling and simulation and then we go live fire against that.” Hill underscored DoD “have seen nothing that breaks the bounds that we have set for NGI right now, so I’m very confident that that capability, when it comes forward, is going to be able to handle it.”

No Worries. Rocket Lab last week told Defense Daily that despite having large deposits with the failed Silicon Valley Bank, the vast majority of its cash and cash equivalents are held elsewhere, “so we are not facing a liquidity issue and do not expect it to impact our operations at this time.” On March 10, the day SVB collapsed and was taken over by the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Rocket Lab alerted the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had $38 million in deposits with the bank, an amount representing 7.9 percent of the company’s cash and cash equivalents and marketable securities as of Dec. 31, 2022. The company told Defense Daily 92 percent of its cash and cash equivalents are with other financial institutions. It expects the recovery of all, or some, of its funds with SVB to be “a highly regulated one that will play out over time, and we’ll monitor its progress closely.”

…Meantime, a Successful Liftoff. On March 16, Rocket Lab said it successfully launched its 34th Electron rocket and second mission from its new launch site on Wallops Island, Va. The rocket deployed into low Earth orbit two 100-kg synthetic aperture radar satellites for Capella Space. Rocket Lab is preparing its next rocket launch this month from its site in New Zealand.

Backscatter Radar. The Department of the Air Force’s fiscal 2024 request contains $429 million in research and development for Over-the-Horizon Backscatter radar (OTH-B). The request is an increase of $417 million over the fiscal 2023 appropriation for OTH-B “modeling and simulation to extend current North Warning System surveillance to long range early warning for North America,” the department said. The Air Force began looking into OTH-B in 1966, and General Electric began developing a prototype for the AN/FPS-118 OTH-B in 1975, but it was not until 1990-1991 that OTH-B was ready for fielding in Moscow, Maine; Columbia Falls, Maine; Christmas Valley, Ore.; and Tule Lake, Calif. OTH-B was to detect threats up to 1,800 miles away by bouncing signals off the ionosphere and then off of incoming targets. When the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991, the relevance of OTH-B for detecting Soviet bombers and low-flying cruise missiles receded, and the sites were eventually dismantled.

Last Navy JPALS. The Navy accepted delivery of the last Joint Precision Approach and Landing Systems (JPALS) unit on March 16, noting it was an on-time or ahead of schedule delivery for Naval Air Systems Command. JPALS is a ship-relative GPS-based system that provides U.S. aircraft carriers (CVNs) and amphibious assault ships (LHDs and LHAs) with precision approach and landing capability, surveillance, and over-the-air inertial alignment in all mission and weather environments. JPALS are being deployed on all U.S. CVNs, LHDs and LHAs as well as on the U.K. Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Italian Navy’s ITS Cavour carriers. Last December Japan became the third foreign military sale customer of JPALs, which plans to integrate the system onto its JS Izumo in 2024. JPALS initial operational capability was reached in May 2021 while full operational capability is scheduled for fiscal year 2026. 

Marines Unfunded. Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger last week said his annual unfunded requirements list due to Congress should be released around March 23. While he could not comment on what is specifically on his list, Berger said “I don’t think you’ll be surprised,” after several conversations focused on disagreements with the Navy and Office of the Secretary of Defense on the costs and need to keep procuring San Antonio-class Flight II amphibious transport dock ships (LPD). Last year, Congress agreed with Berger’s unfunded list’s top priority to fund advanced procurement for the next amphibious ship, LPD-33. 

DDG-105. The Navy announced the Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) in Yokosuka, Japan completed a selected restricted availability (SRA) on the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG-105) on time on March 6. The service said the work entailed more than 74,000 man-days valued at over $26.6 million during the FY 2022 SRA. During the availability, the Navy conducted life-cycle assessments, inspections and repairs, and multiple command control, communications, computers, intelligence, electrical, and mechanical system upgrades were finished.

Aerojet Shareholders Approve. Aerojet Rocketdyne last Thursday said its shareholders have overwhelmingly approved the company’s proposed acquisition by L3Harris Technologies. Aerojet said 99.7 percent of the votes were for the deal. Both companies said they still expect the transaction to close this year. However, the Federal Trade Commission is carefully reviewing the deal. Last week the companies disclosed that the government needs more time to examine any anti-trust concerns the acquisition may present.

Not a Priority. The Transportation Security Administration is requesting $70.4 million in fiscal year 2024 to purchase 86 computed tomography-based checkpoint carry-on baggage scanners, a woefully low number considering the program is a key technology priority for the agency. TSA received $105 million in each of fiscal years 2022 and 2023, amounts that TSA Administrator David Pekoske told Congress last year would stretch out deployments of the checkpoint property screening systems (CPSS) until the mid-2030s. He maintains that the agency needs between $300 million and $350 million annually to get about 2,400 of these systems deployed during the next four to five years. So far, the agency has purchased 300 checkpoint CT systems from Smiths Detection, although these systems do not meet the CPSS detection standard, and has also deployed, or is in the process of deploying, 163 systems from Analogic. In FY ’23, TSA expects to purchase about 136 checkpoint CT systems.

Five More Years For DDG-51. On March 14 the Navy announced the Surface Warfare Directorate in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N96) recently approved the life extension of USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) for five more years so it will have a 40-year service life, up from its original expected 35 years. This means it will operate through FY 2031. DDG-51 was based in Norfolk, Va., for 30 years but in 2021 it rotated homeports to Rota, Spain as a forward-deployed ship in the 6th Fleet. DDG-51 is currently on its third patrol in the region.

Ukraine Support. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hosted the 10th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contract Group on March 15. The latest meeting, hosted virtually from the Pentagon, once again included defense officials from around 50 countries discussing the latest efforts to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s ongoing invasion. “Russia is running out of capability and running out of friends. Putin has now had a year’s worth of proof that the United States and the [Ukraine Defense] Contact Group will support Ukraine’s right to defend itself for the long haul,” Austin said in a press briefing following the meeting. “We will continue to dig deep for new donations and today we heard updates on our progress and some significant new commitments.” Austin noted Sweden announced plans to provide 10 Leopard tanks and “key air defense components” to Ukraine, while Norway is working with the U.S. to provide Kyiv with two more NASAMS air defense systems.

155mm Ammo. The Army has awarded General Dynamics a contract modification worth nearly $1.5 billion to manufacture large-caliber metal projectiles and mortar projectiles, the Pentagon announced on March 14. Work on the deal is expected to be completed by the end of July 2029. “This modification will cover an increase to surge capacity requirements for 155 mm artillery metal parts to support Ukraine and customer requirements,” Ellen Lovett, an Army spokeswoman, said in a statement to Defense Daily. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth noted recently the service has already increased its production capacity for 155mm artillery shells from 14,000 to 20,000 rounds per month, with a goal to produce around 75,000 rounds by early FY ‘25. 

Mk 21A Reentry Vehicle. The Air Force’s fiscal 2024 budget requests $475 million for ICBM reentry vehicles, an increase of $359 million from last year’s $116 million appropriation. The Air Force said that it plans to increase funding in fiscal 2024 for the Lockheed Martin Mark 21A Reentry Vehicle for the LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM, which is to be equipped with the W87-0 and then the W87-1 warhead. In 2019, Lockheed Martin received an Air Force technology maturation and risk reduction contract for the Mark 21A.

CHIPS and Child Care. Last week, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo laid out requirements for companies wishing to take advantages of CHIPS and Science Act grants to build semiconductor plants in the United States, including a mandate that grant recipients have affordable, quality child care for their workers. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has objected to this approach. The grants “should be based solely on how each project will strengthen our national security and shore up this vulnerable supply chain,” he said. “We can’t be in a situation where applicants that provide free childcare are favored over those who will do more to strengthen our national security.” The White House said last week that affordable, quality child care is vital “in the locations where massive new investments in chips manufacturing are being made” and that the Department of Commerce’s announcement “is a common-sense approach to the imperative of increasing our workforce, and in turn for fulfilling the national security imperative of manufacturing chips here in America.”

AH-64E Apaches. The Army on March 17 awarded Boeing a nearly $2 billion contract modification for AH-64E Apache attack helicopter production. Work on the deal is expected to be completed by the end of 2027. The deal includes an obligation of Foreign Military Sales funds covering AH-64E Apache deliveries to Australia and Egypt, according to the Pentagon.