The Pentagon’s chief missile defense official said despite the cancellation of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) delaying new missile defense interceptors a new missile field for interceptors will help maintenance work on existing interceptors and missile fields.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is in the process of adding 20 new silos to Missile Field 4 at Fort Greely, Alaska, where the vast majority of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) Systems’ ground-based interceptors (GBIs) are based. Missile Field 4 was meant to house 20 new GBIs topped with the RKV before the program was canceled.

Vice Adm. John Hill, Director of the Missile Defense Agency. (Photo: MDA)
Vice Adm. John Hill, Director of the Missile Defense Agency. (Photo: MDA)

“Missile Field 4 becomes important even if we’re not hitting the mark timewise for those additional 20 GBIs that were intended, because it gives you the ability to do maintenance and to ensure that that is on track and ready to roll,” MDA director Vice Adm. John Hill said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on Monday.

“We’ve been constrained in the past. If we had a maintenance activity we needed to do – you know, pull the missile out, it goes into a missile assembly building, but you can’t really swap silos and move them around as freely as we need to. So in the interim, we’re going to use the additional silos that we have in Missile Field 4 for maintenance activity,” Hill continued.

He said the field gives the agency the chance to upgrade the older missile fields by just moving GBIs into different silos “so there’s real value in it.”

After RKV was canceled, the Pentagon transformed it into a new Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) program. NGI is being planned as a new all-up-round that replaces everything from the booster to the kinetic warhead. Hill noted the agency is looking at all options for how to maintain the current set of older GBIs until the NGI is ready.

Once RKV was terminated, “the first response was – ok, how do we take care of the existing fleet, how do we get that existing fleet to be at the highest state of readiness for the longest amount of time possible. So we’ve come to that drill. We have a very good understanding of what it’s going to take to get there.”

Although he did not provide specifics, Hill said they are currently discussing what the agency will do to maintain high GBI reliability levels while NGI is being developed and built.

He noted criticism on timelines and costs of the switch from RKV to NGI is good.

“I think that’s a healthy debate, what can be done in the interim? And what can you do to pull that in? And I think that’s what allows us speed as we go downstream, but also to ensure we have the right capability that interacts with industry is really important. And so we’re in the middle of that now.”

MDA has worked through two draft request for proposals with industry on the NGI. “And you want to have as much discussion as you can with industry so you can understand the art of the possible,” Hill said.

Hill said the agency has a sense of cost and time but since they have not awarded a contract yet he did not have specifics on what it will look like or timelines.

“I get a lot of questions on, you know- what’s this thing really going to look like? Well I don’t know because it’s a competition and so we have a set of requirements that I think are very good requirements. It will set us up for the long term.”

Last month, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, who ordered the review and cancellation of RKV, said the RKV to NGI redesign will push back the schedule of additional interceptors by a few years (Defense Daily, Sept. 4).

The Senate Appropriations Committee then recommended adding $222 million to the MDA’s FY 2020 budget to aid in the RKV to GBI transition. The committee also recommended adding $180 million for reliability/service life extension program upgrades of the GBIs and $135 million for GBI launch silo improvements (Defense Daily, Sept. 11).