RAND Report on Countermeasures Proliferation (February 28, 2014)

RAND has just released a report on ballistic missile countermeasure technologies.  The Report: “Penaid Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of Countermeasures Against Ballistic Missile Defenses” by Richard H Speier, K. Scott McMahon, and George Macouziis is primarily about using the Missile Technology Control Regime to attempt to limit the spread of countermeasures technology, it also has a number of interesting figures illustrating countermeasures approaches. The Report is available at: http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR378.html.

When Is a Missile Defense “Hit” a “Kill”? MDA Says It’s Classified. (February 14, 2014)

The full transcript of the House Armed Services Committee’s May 8, 2013 hearing on ballistic missile defenses was posted by the Government Printing Office this week.  The responses to written questions from the Committee members contain some interesting new (to me, at least) information:

(1) The distinction between a “hit” and a “kill” now seems to be classified, at least for the Ground-Based Midcourse System’s GBI hit-to-kill interceptors.  (For background on this point, including the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation’s assessment that he scored the successful FTG-02 intercept test as a ‘hit” but not a “kill”, see my post of October 18, 2012.)  From the transcript, here are questions to MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring:

Mr. COOPER. 16) In tests of the GBI, is a ‘‘hit’’ considered a ‘‘kill’’? Are there any successful intercept tests where a hit would have not equated to a kill of the target?  How do these assumptions impact the reliability of the GMD system?

 Admiral SYRING. [The information referred to is classified and retained in the committee files.]


(2) Some other things that are now apparently classified:

            (a) Whether or not Aegis SM-3 Block IA and IB interceptors deployed on U.S. territory could intercept missiles from Iran. (p. 81) (Comment: MDA has not never stated (as far as I know) that the Block I interceptors were effective against ICBMs, although one has been used to shoot down a satellite.)

            (b) Whether or not Aegis ships or Aegis Ashore are being considered for defense of the U.S. East Coast. (pp. 83 and 84) (Comment: MDA has previously said that all options were under consideration.)

            (c) How the number (fourteen) of additional GBI interceptors to be deployed by 2017 was determined. (p. 83)  (Comment: Probably the fact that there were fourteen additional silos available had something to do with the decision.)

(3) The MDA is developing a new, upgraded version of the CE-II GBI, to be called the CE-II Block I GBI.  (Its full name is apparently “Common Booster Avionics and Obsolescence Design (CBAU/CE-II Block I”).  It is currently scheduled for a first intercept test in FY 2016 and the fourteen additional GBIs announced in March 2013 will be of this type. (p. 87).   (Correction, February 17: changed this point to reflect that the 14 new Block I GBIs will not be the ones deployed by FY 2017 but instead the ones purchased beginning in 2016, and removed point about “fly before you buy”)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

(4) The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) statement that: “We assess that countries developing ballistic missiles,” including North Korea and Iran, “would also develop various responses to U.S. theater and national defenses … by the time they flight test their missiles,” is also MDA’s current assessment of the missile threat. This was confirmed by Madelyn Creedon, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, by MDA Director Vice Admiral James Syring, and by Michael Gilmore, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation. (pp. 83-84, 85-86, 88)


Department of Defense Says No to Increased GMD Testing (February 13, 2014)

As discussed in my post of December 24, 2012, the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act required the Department of Defense (DoD)  to provide a report to Congress on testing of the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system.  Specifically the report was to assess “the feasibility, advisability, and cost-effectiveness of accelerating the date for testing the GMD system against an ICBM-range target, and of conducting GMD flight tests at a pace of three tests every 2 years.”

Yesterday, Inside Defense SITREP reported that DoD’s response, which was delivered to Congress last fall but has not been publicly released, said that neither increase in the pace of testing was feasible.[1]  As I noted in my December 24 post, such a response was to be expected given previous statements by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E). 

However, if anything, it now appears possible that the test against an ICBM target may actually be further delayed rather than accelerated.    For the last several years, MDA and DOT&E have been saying that the first GMD intercept of an ICBM target would take place in fiscal year 2015 (specifically in the 3rd quarter of calendar year 2015).  Now, according to MDA spokesman Richard Lehner, the plan is for “a flight test against an ICBM target in the 2015-2016 time frame when an appropriate ICBM target becomes available.”[2]

The report to Congress also repeated MDA’s argument (again see my post of December 24, 2012) that a GMD test pace of more than one test per year was not feasible because of the complexity of the tests.  (In comparison, in 2013 the MDA conducted five successful intercept tests of exo-atmospheric SM-3 Aegis BMD interceptors in less than eight months – from February 12 to October 3.)

[1] Jason Sherman, “DOD To Congress: MDA Has No Plans To Accelerate Pace of GMD Testing,” Inside Defense SITREP, February 12, 2014.

[2]Sherman, “DOD To Congress.”

How Much Radar for $1 Billion? (February 7, 2014)

According to a recent news report, the United States plans to spend nearly $1 billion dollars on a new missile defense radar in Alaska.[1]  This radar is intended to increase the discrimination capability of the current U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system.  Although no details on the radar have been publicly released, it will certainly be some sort of X-band phased-array radar (“X-band” indicates an operating frequency of about 10 GHz).  So how much X-band radar can you get for a billion dollars?  And does this price tell us anything about the likely nature of the radar?  As will be seen below, there are at least several possibilities

A TPY-2 X-band radar.

The U.S. currently has eight TPY-2 X-band radars, with four more under construction.  These air-transportable radars are relatively inexpensive, costing about $180-200 million each including supporting equipment. However, these radars are far too small (in terms of the power and antenna aperture) for the GMD discrimination mission.


A TPY-2 radar and supporting equipment.  (Image source: MDA)


A“Stacked” TPY-2 radar

A 2012 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report called for deploying five “stacked” TPY-2 radars at five sites (including one in Alaska) as GMD discrimination radars.    These radars would use two TPY-2 antennas, stacked one on top of the other on a turntable, giving an eight-fold increase in the radar’s power-aperture-gain (an appropriate figure of merit for a discrimination radar) relative to a TPY-2 radar.  According to the NAS Report, once developed, such a radar would cost about $320 million each to build in batch of five.[2]  The NAS puts the cost of developing the radar at $0.8-1.0 billion.  Thus the cost of developing and deploying just one stacked radar would be about $1.1-1.3 billion.  The Department of Defense’s estimated cost of a stacked TPY-2 is “at least $500 million (see next paragraph), so this option would seem to be possible for the “nearly $1 billion” figure cited for the proposed new radar.

However, the MDA does not seem to be favorably inclined to the stacked TPY-2 proposal.  A February 2013 Department of Defense report to Congress concludes that: “The cost to build a stacked AN/TPY-2 radar array would be at least $500 million.  Alternative concepts would provide a more robust capability for less cost.”[3]  Moreover, while the range of such a stacked radar would be much greater than that of a TPY-2 radar, it would be significantly less than other X-band radar options.


An Upgraded GBR-P

A third option would be to take the existing Ground-Based Radar – Prototype (GBR-P) X-band radar at the U.S. test range on Kwajalein Atoll and move it to Alaska, probably with some significant upgrades.  This radar is no longer being used for testing and the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the total cost of upgrading and moving the radar (to the U.S. East Coast) to be $510 million. (See my post of August 6, 2013).   The GBR-P was designed to be upgradeable, and under the George W. Bush Administration’s now-cancelled European Missile Defense plan, it would have been moved to the Czech Republic and renamed the European Midcourse Radar.  Depending on the extent of the upgrades (see my post of June 11, 2013), this radar could have a significantly greater range than a stacked TPY-2.  However, it would also have a very limited electronic field of view, which could limit its capability to deal with attacks by multiple missiles.  In addition, it is likely that the MDA will want to deploy at least one more large X-band radar (for example, on the East Coast) and there is only one GBR-P (although, as discussed next, the SBX could also be redeployed).


The GBR-P under construction (Image source: http://www.boeing.com/boeing/companyoffices/gallery/images/space/gmd/973897.page)

A Land-Based SBX

A fourth option would be to build another Sea-Based X-band (SBX) radar, but to place it on land rather than on a ship.  The SBX is generally described as costing about $0.9-1.0 billion.  However, roughly $250 million of this cost was for the modified ocean-going oil drilling platform it is deployed on.  Thus it seems at least possible that a land-based version of the SBX could be built for about $1 billion, even though the SBX was built for test purposes, and some additional costs would likely be involved in building it to operational standards of reliability and survivability.  This option would give greater range than any of the other options above, but like the upgraded GBR-P, it would have a limited electronic field of view.  Alternatively, the SBX itself could be removed from its ocean-going platform, upgraded, and redeployed on land.  (The NAS Report called for moving the SBX ashore, although it proposed placing the radar on Adak Island in the Aleutians rather than the new radar’s likely central Alaska location.)


The SBX radar under construction. (Image source: MDA)


Or Some Other Option

Other possibilities exist.  The new Cobra Judy radar ship has an X-band phased array radar with an aperture similar to that of the GBR-P.  However, no details about this radar’s other characteristics or cost appear to be publicly available.  Or MDA could choose an entirely new radar design, although this would seem likely to cost substantially more than $1 billion.


The new Cobra Judy radar ship, with its S-band and X-band radar antennas.  (Image source: http://www.riversideresearch.org/coe/radar)



[1] Andrea Shalal-Esa, “Exclusive: Pentagon to Boost Missile Defense Funding by over $4 Billion: Sources,” www.reuters.com, February 7, 2014.

[2] NAS Report, p. 274.

[3] Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, “Stacked AN/TPY-2 Array Concept Report to Congress,” February 2013.