Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Missile Defense Director "Very Confident" Re. Protecting US

SEAPOWER Magazine Online

The director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said Dec. 15 that he was “very confident” that the current system is fully capable of defending the nation against any possible ballistic missile attack from North Korea or Iran, but is following a detailed plan to make the system more capable and reliable by 2020.

Navy VADM James Syring confirmed that the national missile defense system was designed to protect against the relatively small potential threats from those regional adversaries and was not intended to counter Russia’s extensive intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force.

And, Syring said, the plan he is following “hasn’t been affected at all” by the current hostile relations with Moscow and Russia’s aggressive efforts to expand and modernize its long-range missile capabilities.

“Our policy hasn’t deviated at all. … Our focus remains the regional threats,” he said, which also would appear to cover China, which has fielded a limited, but possibly very capable intercontinental missile force.

In a panel discussion following Syring’s presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Keith Payne, a former senior defense official considered a hard-line advocate for missile defense, suggested it was time to debate that focus on the smaller threats in light of the “post, post-Cold War” tensions with Russia and China’s growing defense capabilities.

But James Miller, also a former high-level defense official, and Michael O’Hanlon, a Brookings Institution national security scholar, argued that it would be financially, and perhaps technologically, impossible to develop a national missile defense system able to protect against Russia or China.

Syring noted the June 22 successful test intercept of a surrogate ICBM by the ground-based mid-course defense (GMD) system, but admitted it was “long overdue” after two back-to-back test failures of the national system forced a nearly three-year break in testing.

He laid out a plan for incremental improvements in the GMD system that would be proven by yearly tests. He said the missile defense program has been “stressed through sequestration” and warned that if the full funding reductions are continued, “you could see us backing off.”

The MDA’s plan included fielding the full 44 ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska by 2017, installing the new kill vehicle, which was proven in the last test, on all 33 current interceptors, developing an even better kill vehicle by 2020 and fielding a long range discriminating radar, which would help identify the incoming warhead among the clutter of missile debris and decoys.