The director of the Missile Defense Agency on Tuesday said adding space-based interceptors for missile defense “would require a significant change in national policy” and are expensive. He also noted the Poland Aegis Ashore site is about 18 months behind schedule and spoke approvingly of President Trump’s directive for a new Space Force.
Speaking at a Mitchell Institute Strategic Deterrence event, Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves noted that space-based interceptors are indeed a potential capability for the future, but require many prerequisites and policy changes. Beyond changing policy, “it comes with a fairly large bill behind it.”
He said the agency is conducting studies looking at the capability, “but there are a number of things that need to happen in parallel to make that, the space-based interceptor, a reality.”
His comments come after the Senate approved its draft of the FY ’19 defense authorization bill that would require the MDA to develop a space-based intercept payer regardless of what the upcoming Missile Defense Review (MDR) recommends (Defense Daily, June 8).
Space-based interceptors are often used as an example of a potential boost-phase intercept capability. Greaves explained the U.S. does not currently have any boost-phase capability, “but we believe that whether it’s directed energy-based or some sort of kinetic weapon capability- we can and should develop a boost-phase defense capability.”
Greaves noted an old joke that laser and directed energy weapons always seem to be five years away, but said “we are adamant that we need to continue the technology development.”
The MDA is looking at eventually reaching power levels of 500 kilowatts to defeat a liquid-fueled missile and 1 megawatt for solid-fueled targets. The agency is considering pairing weapons in that range with a high altitude unmanned vehicle operating at 65,000 feet.
The director reiterated the importance of preparing for hypersonic weapons threats with space-based sensor layers. He said, “We believe the hypersonic threat is real based on what we have seen others demonstrate. There is no question there. It’s only a matter of time before it’s operationalized. And the question will be what have we done to prepare ourselves to mitigate or eliminate that threat in five, six, seven years from now when it shows up. We’ve got the time now to get started now, work with industry, and deploy the capability to mitigate that hypersonic threat, and space will be a big part of that.”
Separately, Greaves elaborated on the delays in completing the Poland Aegis Ashore site, part of Phase Three of the European Adaptive Approach (EPAA). Back in March, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee the Phase 3 Technical Capability Direction was pushed back by two years to 2020 due to military construction issues (Defense Daily, March 23). The Phase 3 declaration was originally set for December 2018. In April he told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense the causes were a slow rampup in manpower and resources plus some of the worst rain in five to 10 years in the region (Defense Daily, April 13).
On Tuesday, Greaves said while the construction part is delayed, prime contractor Lockheed Martin [LMT] is ready to go in and start installing the wepaons system as soon as it is allowed. He said the Pentagon currently estimates the site is about 18 months behind and “[doesn’t] see much probability of moving that significantly to the left.” However, Greaves said he will have a better assessment of the site after further military construction over the next eight weeks.
Greaves also supported the president’s public directive last week to establish a Space Force as a sixth branch of the armed forces (Defense Daily, June 18).
When asked if it would help MDA, he said, “If the space force becomes a reality, I see an organization, I see people, I see a community that goes to bed every day and wakes up every morning thinking about space. They’re not just thinking about authorities in space, they’re thinking about the acquisition process that delivers capability to the field in a requisite amount of time, I see that focus there.”
“When it’s approved, because the president already said we’re going to do it, I would say the focus and speed and intent of that space force will reflect positively with our mission.”
However, Greaves noted, “we need to go through the process, as the Secretary of Defense has said. The Secretary of the Air Force, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, to look at what’s really required now that the president has made the decision. It’s not up for debate, I mean, at least I didn’t take it as being up for debate anymore.”