The House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to the FY ’20 defense authorization bill that reinstates a planned Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block IIA intercept test.

While the FY ’18 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required a test of the SM-3 IIA against an ICBM-range target by December 2020, the chairman’s mark included a provision that restricted the test occur only after the SM-3 IIA finishes “operationally realistic testing” against medium and intermediate-range threats.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and U.S. Navy sailors manning the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex (AAMDTC) at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Kauai, Hawaii, successfully conduct launch a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor in Flight Test Integrated-03 (FTI-03). (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

The language underscored these are the “threats for which such interceptors were designed.”

The provision would also limit any funds in the bill from being used to plan or carry out a test to evaluate and demonstrate the capability of using an SM-3 IIA to defeat a “simple” ICBM until after the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) certifies the interceptor has been tested enough to prove effectiveness first against medium and intermediate-range threats.

However, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) brought the amendment reversing this decision, which was approved by a roll call vote 32 to 24 late on Wednesday. Democrats who voted with the Republicans in favor of the amendment include Reps. Seth Moulton (Mass.), Chrissy Houlahan (Pa.), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.), and Jared Golden (Maine).

Turner argued this provision would cost $120 million in unrecoverable sunk costs and set back the entire testing program of the SM-3 IIA by two years, because the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has already scheduled the test in response to the FY ’18 NDAA. He said MDA told them canceling the test would lead to the two-year SM-3 IIA delay.

He said they want this kind of test because it could add options to intercept an ICBM beyond the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. “You want, in midcourse, options to be able to, besides our ground-based interceptors, to intercept an incoming threat and to take it out. So this test would verify that.”

Turner argued that because it is already being set up “the only reason why you’d do this is if you’re against missile defense. There’s no reason to cancel a test that’s on its way in and that’s going to cost $120 million to cancel and it’s going to set back the entire testing system of this missile for two years.”

“This is a test. I mean we’re not deploying something. We’re just testing it. We’re understanding the knowledge of what it’s capable of. So I would ask that my fellow members vote for this to save the $120 million, not lose two years in testing, and actually get the knowledge of how do we defend this country through missile defense,” he continued.

Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) defended the provision  by arguing the language did not prohibit future tests, only “remove an arbitrary date set by Congress” for the rest and require the DOT&E assessment of its effectiveness against what the SM-3 IIA was originally designed to intercept before moving on to ICBMs.

He noted the SM-3 IIA previously experience two in-flight failures during developmental operational testing and it has so far only successfully engaged one intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) target it is designed to defeat as part of the Aegis Ashore European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) Phase 3.

The provision “supports the fly before you buy principles to ensure that the taxpayers dollars are being spent on the system that works,” Carbajal said.

He also noted a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said the SM-3 IIA’s lack of testing against threats it was designed to defeat may lead to future design issues. GAO noted MDA’s initial plan had SM-3 IIA finish five IRBM intercepts by now, but flight test failures and test range availability problems means only one successful test has been completed so far (Defense Daily, June 7).

Carbajal said DOT&E’s 2018 annual report said the office considered one of the SM-3 IIA test failures to be a result of a shortfall in conducting operationally representative ground testing.

Carbajal also revealed SM-3 IIA production is currently on hold linked to technical issue in the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV), which is being developed to be used on Ground-based Interceptors (GBIs) for the GMD system.

The RKV reuses some undisclosed components from the SM-3 IIA interceptor.

The Defense Department issued a stop-work order on RKV activity last month after technical issues delayed he program two years and pushed it $600 million over budget (Defense Daily, May 24).

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) countered that MDA said the next opportunity to test SM-3 IIAs against a shorter range or IRBM-class target is in FY ’21. That means without the ICBM test there would be a testing gap of two years. She also argued SM-3 IIA could prove out additional midcourse defense capabilities.

“So at a time when our only other midcourse system, GBI, is delayed because of a technical issue with the reentry vehicle, we should be looking for every opportunity we can to increase our midcourse homeland defense capabilities, not deny those opportunities for protection,” she said.

Stefanik also noted MDA told the committee they would cancel the ICBM test if the amendment was not approved.

Turner also argued logistically, “this, by the way, is another one of those things that’s never going to become law. The Senate’s never going to allow this test to be canceled.”