Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) provided a Senate panel on Wednesday with additional details about a recent missile defense salvo test and the two-year delay to the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) program.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves told the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee that the recent salvo test, dubbed FTG-11, “was the most complex, comprehensive, and operationally challenging test ever executed by the missile defense agency.”
While the agency will be reviewing about nine months’ worth of data to gauge its success, Greaves said, “the initial look says it was a complete success.”
He characterized the test as different from any MDA test in the past “because we launched, within a very short period of time two Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs), operationally released by the combatant commander using their operational processes, which was very important.”
While the first GBI intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threat-representative target, “what’s most important is that it created a debris field and this test has been 10 years and more in the making, and the importance of that was the trailing, the second interceptor was able to discern the debris from the next most lethal object…and also intercept that object,” Greaves added.
He said the test proves the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) defense system cannot be confused or countered by an opponent “launching junk or debris.”
MDA conducted the test of March 25 with the test GBIs launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The ICBM-representative targets were delivered from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands (Defense Daily, March 26).
While Greaves said the system can manage low-level distractions, he discuss its capabilities against higher level decoys and countermeasures.
When pressed by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Greaves first admitted the second GBI tracked and hit the biggest fragment from the first intercept debris. Then, he specified the second GBI engaged the next most lethal object, which is “the next object that most closely resembles a threat vehicle.”
The MDA director also classified the next step in the GMD system is to continue with the RKV program despite a two-year delay.
The agency’s FY 2020 budget said the RKV program was being delayed two years, pushing back the installation and deployment of 20 more GBIs that are set to use them. The agency is requesting $412 million to continued development work (Defense Daily, March 12).
The RKV is designed to improve the reliability of GBIs. There are currently 44 total, with 40 based at Fort Greeley, Alaska. The MDA plans to add 20 GBIs tipped with the RKV.
“As part of the disciplined acquisition strategy, we had very strict entrance criteria into what’s called a critical design review. The design did not meet it, so I assessed it and made the decision that we would not enter into it. So now we’re working actions to get back to the critical design review (CDR), but the top priority is to deliver that more reliable kill vehicle along the plan that we have submitted in the budget.”
The budget request said the CDR was being delayed from 2018 to 2020 while the first RKV controlled vehicle test is being pushed back to FY ’22, a first intercept test pushed to FY ’23, and a second intercept test to FY ’24.
Greaves said he could not discuss the details of the delay problem, but the same kind of issue would not have delayed the original exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) and GBIs. Indeed, while the first GBIs were deployed in 2004 as a limited deployment option, at that time there had been no successful flight tests of those interceptors.
He explained in that earlier mindset a decision could be made to move ahead and deliver the best capability you can deliver now.
In contrast, “the major difference here is that from the outset this acquisition strategy was destined and intended to deliver a more reliable vehicle that followed a disciplined acquisition process to include robust design, robust testing, and a system that was more maintainable,” Greaves said.
He said this delay does not slow down the acquisition process “because of the unique acquisition authorities that both the Congress and the Department have provided to the Missile Defense Agency,” including giving him milestone decision authority.
When pressed further by Sullivan, Greaves said the two-year delay could be adjusted by a few months and that it is a “technical issue.”
“More likely shortened, but it could go the other way. I mean, when we delivered the developed the plan for up to 2 years, we took a best guess, almost worst case,” Greaves said.