The head of the Missile Defense Agency last week said the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) program will have flexibility in its development cycle and emphasized it will replace the entire Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI), not just the kill vehicle.

Speaking at the annual McAleese defense programs conference March 4, Vice Adm. Jon Hill said the way they are planning to make the best NGI is to ensure there is flexibility in the contract throughout the development cycle “to where if the threat does a wild shift we can adjust to that while we’re in development.”

Two Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on March 25, 2019, in the first salvo test of an ICBM target. The GBIs successfully intercepted a target launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)
Two Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI) launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on March 25, 2019, in the first salvo test of an ICBM target. The GBIs successfully intercepted a target launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)

“And that’s kind of heresy for program managers, they don’t like that when you start to lose a little control – well I’m a program manager and it makes me nervous just saying that. But you have to have that kind of flexibility in the contract. So we’re building that in,” he continued.

The NGI is the successor to the failed Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKF) program that aimed to upgrade the kill vehicle part of the GBIs in the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD). GMD’s main interceptor site is in Fort Greeley, Alaska.

MDA previously planned to install 20 new interceptors equipped with the RKV at Fort Greeley, but last year Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin canceled RKV after a review found deficiencies in the program would add $600 million in funding and delay it another two years.

The Defense Department’s FY 2021 budget request is planning for $4.9 billion in NGI funds over the five-year Future Years Defense Program, with $638 million requested via research and development funds in FY ’21 alone (Defense Daily, Feb. 11).

At the MDA budget briefing in February Hill said they expected to release the NGI Request for Proposals (RFP) to industry by the end of the month.

During the budget briefing, Hill said after the MDA releases the RFP there will be some time when the agency works on a technical evaluation of the bids that come in, then it expects to make an award by the end of 2020.

Anticipating a question about when MDA will release the RFP, Hill noted a focus on requirements because the NGI will replace the entire GBI

“I tell you, we are working the RFP heavily because we’re tying it right back to requirements, we’re taking a hard look at time. What can we do to bring that time back so that we deliver at a timeline where we can replace the older GBI,” Hill said.

Budget documents said MDA plans for design and development activities for two interceptor development contract vendors in July 2020. At the time, Hill said working with two suppliers at least through the preliminary design review helps reduce risk.

Hill underscored getting the best solution for NGI is difficult because it is hard to project threats out five to 10 years.

“So then now we have to make an educated guess and that means you have to go in and work with a lot of people. And right now, we’re working very closely with Strategic Command – Adm. Richard himself, Gen O’Shaughnessy himself at NORTHCOM.”

The MDA head noted last week he had a team with O’Shaughnessy going through top-level requirements that can translate down to the specification level on the contract.

“And we’re making assumptions about the threat to the best of our ability. And I think they’re pretty good assumptions. And so when you get into that you need to take a holistic look.”

Hill noted the NGI does more than replace the RKV program.

“We’re not just building a kill vehicle. So the difference with the next generation interceptor is the whole interceptor, it’s a whole up round. So we’re looking at the warheads and we’re looking at the boost vehicles, and we’re looking at the launch piece of it. So it is a holistic look.

Hill said NGI development speed also depends on the industrial base.

“Part of gaining our speed back is making sure the industrial base is ready to deliver the kind of parts and components that we need to operate in these really harsh environments and to have them last a long time. Because I full well know when these go in the ground they’re going to be there for a long time,” he continued.

Relatedly, Hill underscored MDA is working with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten as head of the Joint Requirements Council (JROC), which defines what a weapon must accomplish for the military services.

“Now I don’t normally go through a Joint Requirements Oversight Council – but Gen. Hyten has offered – ‘Hey I want to see how you’re doing on hitting your knowledge points along the way because we as a department need to understand whether or not we need to make more investment,’” Hill said.

“Can we pull back after PDR (preliminary design review) and go to one vendor? Or should we stay with two through CDR (critical design review)?…Because of the complexity of hit to kill and the complexity of a kill vehicle, I would like to see it go all the way to the first flight test. But we have to see where the budget leaves us and we really won’t know,” he added.