GMD Testing Update (February 27, 2020)

Each year the RDT&E Budget Estimates for the MDA lists planned MDA tests in the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP). This year’s estimate (for fiscal year 2021) lists tests out through the fourth quarter (4Q) of FY 2026.[1] Of the many tests listed, there appear to be five future Ground Based Midcourse (GMD) flight or intercept tests (and one already completed test). Table 1 below lists these tests as best I can reconstruct them.

Designation Date

 

(FY)

Description/Comments
FTG-11 2Q 2019 OT GMD intercept test. Salvo test – 2 interceptors vs 1 target. Successfully completed 2Q 2019
BVT-03 1Q 2021 Flight test of booster with selectable 2/3 stage capability.   Not an intercept test.
CTV-03 2Q 2022 GMD flight test. First flight test of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV). Not an intercept test.
FTG-17 1Q 2023 DT GMD intercept test. First intercept test of RKV.
FTG-18 1Q 2024 DT/OT GMD intercept test. Second intercept test of RKV.
FTO-04 1Q 2025 Integrated (multiple interceptor types) operational test. The GMD portion may be first test against two simultaneous targets (formerly FTG-13).

DT = developmental test        OT = operational test

Table 1. Planned GMD flight/intercept tests through 2025.

This schedule for future GMD testing is almost identical to that in last year’s budget materials, except for a one quarter slippage in BVT-03 and the addition of FTO-04. It shows that from now through FY 2025, MDA has two GMD flight tests and three or four GMD intercept tests planned.

However, in August 2018 the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) program was terminated and was replaced with a new program to develop a Next Generation Interceptor (NGI). Thus the three RKV flight Tests in Table 1 will not take place, leaving no GMD flight/intercept tests after BVT-03, currently scheduled for late 2020, until the end of 2024. Under current plans, the first NGI flight test would not take place until 2025-2026.[2] Thus there could be a four year gap in GMD flight tests and an almost six year gap in GmD intercept tests. (There is interest, however, in accelerating the NGI interceptor program, which would likely involve scaling back its capabilities.[3])

MDA could avoid a lengthy gap in GMD intercept testing by conducting tests using its existing Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs, with CE-I, CE-II or CE-II Block I kill vehicles). However, the fact that no such tests are included in the current plans strongly suggests that MDA does not see the need for further tests of its current GBI interceptors.

Moreover, tests of the current interceptors could draw down the total number of deployed GBIs. There are currently 44 deployed GBI interceptors. Until recently, plans called for increasing this number to 64 by deploying 20 additional GBI interceptors equipped with the new RKV starting in about 2025. The cancellation of the RKV means the increase to 64 interceptors will be significantly delayed, possibly to 2030 or later.

To avoid drawing down the number of deployed GBI interceptors, MDA planned to buy five additional boosters for flight/interception tests of the RKV. According to MDA’s FY 2021 Budget Estimates Overview: “MDA will complete the acquisition of five boosters to support flight testing which will ensure the number of fielded GBIs does not decrease through the FYDP.”[4]

However, at the February 10, 2020 press briefing on the MDA FY 2021 budget, MDA Director for Operations Michelle C. Atkinson indicated that there was no such plan to acquire additional GBI boosters. In responding to a question about the five boosters and whether there were plans to acquire additional GBIs before the Next Generation Interceptor became available, she said: “So I’ll have to… maybe you can share with me afterwards, the five that you’re seeing, because I’m not aware. We are not procuring an additional five GBIs this year.”[5]

Thus MDA may face a tradeoff between a long gap in GMD intercept testing and a reduced number of deployed GBI interceptors. At a time when MDA officials and other missile defense advocates are increasingly expressing concerns about a growing missile threat to the United States, even a small reduction in the number of deployed interceptors may be unacceptable to MDA. At the same time, for several years members of Congress have been urging MDA to accelerate the pace of GMD testing, and this potentially long testing gap could lead Congress to mandate additional tests.

[1] U.S. Department of Defense, Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Budget Estimates, Missile Defense Agency, Research, Development , Test & Evaluation, February 2020. Online at: https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2021/budget_justification/pdfs/03_RDT_and_E/RDTE_Vol2_MDA_RDTE_PB21_Justification_Book.pdf.

[2] U.S. Department of Defense, “Department of Defense Press Briefing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Defense Budget for the Missile Defense Agency, February 10, 2020. Online at: https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2081326/department-of-defense-press-briefing-on-the-presidents-fiscal-year-2021-defense/.

[3] Jason Sherman, “NORTHCOM Chief Renounces 10-Year NGI Plan, Reveals New Effort to Scale Back Requirements,” Inside Defense SITREP, February 14, 2020.

[4] Missile Defense Agency, “Budget Estimates Overview – Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, p. 6. Online at: https://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/budgetfy21.pdf.

[5] “Department of Defense Press Briefing.”

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