Pentagon to Prioritize Boeing Missile Defense Program

The Pentagon plans to prioritize funding for the ground-based missile defense system being developed by Boeing Co., the second highest-ranking U.S. military officer said.

The Pentagon plans to prioritize funding for the ground-based missile defense system being developed by Boeing Co., the second highest-ranking U.S. military officer said.

The governments of North Korea and Iran are trying to build intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S., according to Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And while neither country has yet achieved mature ICBM designs, the military must take the threats seriously, he said.

“The number of nations trying to achieve that capability is growing, not shrinking,” he said during a speech on Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “A robust and capable national missile defense is our best bet to defend the United States from such an attack.”

“That’s why the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program is going to remain our first priority in missile defense,” he added. “With a shrinking defense budget, this system will be accorded the highest priority within the missile defense share of our pie.”

The Defense Department requested $1.6 billion for the system in fiscal 2016, beginning Oct. 1, a 60-percent increase from this year, according to budget documents. The additional funding, if approved by Congress, would be used to conduct more flight tests and redesign parts of the system.

It would also go toward upgrading and expanding the number of interceptors from 30 to 44, including an eventual 40 at the Army’s Fort Greely in Alaska and four at the Air Force’s Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Lawmakers in recent years have raised doubts about the technology, which hit targets in only 8 of 15 attempts through mid-July 2013; the high cost of testing, which runs more than $215 million per exercise; and the fact that many of the interceptors aren’t operational.

Navy Vice Adm. James Syring, head of the Missile Defense Agency, has acknowledged the system faced a more demanding development schedule that resulted in interceptors being deployed before testing was complete. Indeed, when a three-stage booster launched from Vandenberg and intercepted a dummy warhead last summer, it was the first successful test in five years.

The interceptor featured a newer type of exoatmospheric kill vehicle, or EKV, which sat atop the interceptor and destroyed the projectile on impact. Boeing is the program’s prime contractor; Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. builds the interceptor; and Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. makes the kill vehicle.

“I was in the room watching it and you can imagine what it felt like to watch that thing have an extremely successful intercept,” Winnefeld said. “It was a very good shot in the arm for that program. Based on the success of that shot, we were able to resume production of eight planned GBIs in the new and improved configuration,” he said, referring to the Capability Enhancement II, or CE-II, design.

There are a total of eight improved CE-2 interceptors, Winnefeld said. A non-intercept flight is set for later this summer, he said. An intercept test involving a CE-2 Block 1 that incorporates obsolescent changes and a new booster avionics package is scheduled for the end of the year, he said.

“That’s going to be our first intercept of a true ICBM-range target,” he said of the latter. “Should that intercept be successful, the plan is to deliver 10 CE-2 Block 1 GBIs over the next year to achieve our goal of 44 GBIs by the end of 2017.”

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • oblatt23

    They say that when the boosters light you can smell the burnt pork two states away.

  • torquewrench

    "Lawmakers in recent years have raised doubts about the technology, which hit targets in only 8 of 15 attempts through mid-July 2013; the high cost of testing, which runs more than $215 million per exercise; and the fact that many of the interceptors aren’t operational."

    The same lawmakers who had consistently refused to appropriate funds to wring the bugs out of the system.

    And blame should not attach only to the lawmakers in Congress. The White House must come in for its share. This White House, and those of previous presidents.

    No administration since that of Ronald Reagan has made ballistic missile defense a genuine national priority, nor funded the effort at anything resembling a realistic level, given the considerable engineering challenges involved.

    As for the "high cost of testing", anyone think that the economic damage from a rogue-state ICBM delivering a nuclear warhead over even a small third-tier American city would amount to only a few hundred million bucks? This is like people who refuse to buy smoke detectors because they think that buying and changing out a 9V battery every few years is an unconscionable expense.

    Build. Test. Learn. Build and test and learn some more. Every year. Don't let up. Don't slack off. Compete the contracts aggressively. Make the prime contractors work hard. Let innovative newcomers try their hand. Pay for performance.

    • Capt Obvious

      Insert F-35 comment here.

    • guest

      BMD was a scam we came up with to drive the USSR into bankruptcy. And it worked! It worked beautifully. We can stop flushing money down the toilet now, thanks.

      • guest

        Exactly what engineering background do you have to permit judging current technologies??

    • FirstDave

      Sorry, if $6B to $9B _per_year_ is not enough to "wring the bugs out", you don't have bugs — you have condors. Or possibly pterodactyls.

      We've spent $100B (and counting) on BMDS. If you want to argue that we should shut down the program and start a REAL missile defense program, with actual requirements and deadlines and performance incentives, that's different. But it's absurd to call this either underfunded or worthwhile.

    • Dfens

      Given that we were told by supposedly credible scientists it was "impossible to hit a missile with a missile" and that it was a feat similar to trying to "hit a bullet with a bullet," you'd think that a better than 50% success rate would be heralded as a miracle and all of the people working on this missile would be up for sainthood. Hell, at the very least you'd think those who lied about it being possible would be held accountable in some way. Hmm, yes, we're not big on accountability these days. Even so, having a 50% chance of taking down an ICBM might be just the ticket when that nut who runs South Korea decides to nuke LA the next time he gets an unfavorable portrayal in a movie. It would beat the hell out of having a 0% chance of surviving.

  • Leon Suchorski

    I thought that we already had the missiles to take care of this problem, and it was just the men that man them that was the problem?

    • Brad Syring

      That was the ICBMs in ND; not this system which is purely defensive and kinetic in nature.

  • Charles

    The Aegis system, along with the SM family of missiles, has been very successful with BMD, while the USAF variant has cost many billions and hasn't garnered anywhere nearly as good a track record.

    Hence – Aegis ashore – possible expanded for greater range – seems like a FAR better bet.

    However BMD is incredibly expensive, but does nothing to solve the cruise missile issue, which are vastly cheaper, much simpler, could be launched from a tramp steamer 500 miles from shore, and is far more difficult to trace. Ballistic missiles can be directly traced to the point of origin, meaning that retaliation would be coming much sooner.

    As a practical issue, attacking anyone with ballistic missiles is simply dumb.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Aegis, ashore or otherwise, doesn't have the range to act as an area defense system over the United States, or even one of them (Rhode Island excepted, perhaps.) Neither Aegis nor current GBMD was meant to address ship-launched cruise missiles, save in the context of naval defense. Reagan's BMD program, while a joy to weapon buffs and wonderful corporate welfare for participating firms, hasn't yet produced a workable system. Unfortunately there is neither the will nor the money for a major re-do of the entire system. Even more unfortunate is the sad fact that hitting a ballistic missile in mid-flight at 500 miles' altitude and 12,000+m.p.h. is barely possible even under the most ideal of conditions.

  • Guest

    Funding this fanciful program borders on criminal.