A top Defense Department official said on Tuesday that he hoped the long-delayed Missile Defense Review (MDR) will be released within weeks.

Speaking at a Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance event on Capitol Hill, under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said he has been working for some time across the DoD in various organizations to finish the MDR. Rood said the department hopes to have it done “in the very near term period, the next few weeks, as we just are wrapping up some of the remaining items. So it will be coming soon to a theater near you.”

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood. (Photo: DoD)
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood. (Photo: DoD)

The event focused on missile defense activities in space and Rood disclosed the MDR will include space-based assets as part of a holistic approach that will look at developments in international security that led to alterations in missile defense approaches, how the U.S. is working with friends and allies, and looking at competing and complementary concerns within DoD.

Rood seemed to acknowledge frustration in ongoing delays for the MDR.

He said “fingers cross” hopefully it is not too far out and “I’m very desirous of pushing it out as soon as we can, believe me. On a personal level, I am.”

Rood said they are now only getting through the “final hurdles” in the Defense Department.

Separately, Rood said he does not see the U.S. pursuing a missile defense space-based sensor layer as a “provocative act” because it does not significantly depart form what the U.S. does now in tracking missile launch capabilities. It would only be different in the types of missile threats that can be tracked and the degree to which they can be monitored.

He said DoD is looking at developing space-based sensors and interceptors for missile defense in accordance with the FY ’18 defense authorization act. However, DoD is “not in a phase for programmatic changes” but “we’re in an examination phase of this activity. And that’s appropriate given that this is relatively recent that the Congress required us to do that.”

Rood said the department will figure out how to explain space-based interceptors to Russia and China as not aggressive to them later. “Those are bridges yet to be crossed, some time away, given the level of sort of examination we’ve given the question thus far.”

The FY ’19 NDAA went further than the 2018 law, mandating the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) move toward creating a space-based intercept layer (Defense Daily, June 8).

Rood said while “we take direction form the Congress very seriously” since the law was only signed days ago “we’re in the process of spinning up to go pursue that.”

Rood added that he did not want to “overstate the level of progress we’ve made in the period since its signing, but certainly we’ll take that seriously.”

Back in June the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) objected to that provision in the FY ’19 NDAA, arguing developing the space-based intercept layer is “premature at this point and creates a large unfunded mandate” (Defense Daily, June 27).

That same month, Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, director of  MDA, said space-based interceptors would be a “significant change in national policy” and “comes with a fairly large bill behind it” (Defense Daily, June 26).

However, at the event on Tuesday,  the under Secretary of Defense for research and engineering said he does not think a space-based interceptor layer could cost more than about $20 billion and highlighted the importance of a space-based layer to address hypersonic threats and.

Michael Griffin reiterated a point he made last month during the Space and Missile Defense Symposium that he does not see a space-based interceptor layer as prohibitively expensive, reaching the hundreds of billions of dollars (Defense Daily, Aug. 8).

He chalked up those figures to lifecycle costs, but said lifecycle costs can be infinite without more specifics and they are less relevant to him than the cost of “entering the game and of being in the game and being on top of the game.”

His rough estimate of a space-based interceptor layer was $20 billion assuming 1,000 interceptors “which to me seems like a lot,” a cost of $20,000 to send each kilogram into Low-Earth orbit, and each intercepting weighing 1,000 kilograms “which to me seems like a lot.”

Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering (DoD photo)
Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering (DoD photo)

“We’ve paid a lot more and gotten a lot less in the Defense Department over the years” Griffin added.

Griffin highlighted the importance of space sensors if the U.S. wants a hypersonic strike capability to offset China’s development.

“If the targets are mobile, I need to know not where the targets were a week ago or even yesterday. I need to know where the targets are right now. I need to know where they’re going to be 15 minutes from now or the best hypersonic strike capability in the world, which might be capable of offsetting what China can do, is of no value.”

Griffin said that kind of requirement alone drives him to a space sensor layer.

The under secretary said that he wants the DoD to move toward directed energy (DE) or laser weapons in the long run and thinks space-based DE anti-missile capabilities are possible.

“We will pushing advances in directed energy forward for the next few years, at least as long as I’m in this position. So we want to make actual progress in directed energy.”

Although he thinks DE is the path to the future, albeit with more experimentation and prototyping, Griffin does not see space-based DE useful against hypersonic weapons.

“Not so much. That does not, to me, seem like a promising tactic for going after a hypersonic glide vehicle.”

Unlike using DE in space or in relatively short ranges, DE weapons would have to contend with atmospheric conditions that decrease their effectiveness.

Defense officials previously said they plan to deploy the first hypersonic and directed energy weapons capabilities by the earl 2020s to match efforts by China and Russia (Defense Daily, Aug. 22).