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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

The Missile Defense Agency’s 2023 budget includes a special emphasis upon research and development of technology to improve command and control technologies for Ground Based Interceptors. The intent is to refine new command and control systems able to exchange time-sensitive information with an interceptor kill vehicle to improve its ability to guide toward an attacking enemy ICBM.

Ground Based Interceptors

Upgraded command and control technology involves the integration of new components into data terminals and communications networks, is designed to increase reliability of the Pentagon’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system and expedite the process through which sensors and data locate ICBM targets, Northrop Grumman developers have told The National Interest.

A threat-representative ICBM target launches from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands on March 25, 2019. It was successfully intercepted by two long-range Ground-based Interceptors launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Courtesy of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency)

A threat-representative ICBM target launches from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands on March 25, 2019. It was successfully intercepted by two long-range Ground-based Interceptors launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Courtesy of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency)

“The budget request upgrades homeland defense system capabilities, including ground-based interceptors, ground systems, and phased array GBI communication terminal kits, and improved components of the agency's GMD system, including GBIs, fire control nodes, communication systems, launch systems, and infrastructure to pace rogue nation threats to the homeland, and initiates ground weapon system capability improvements to integrate NGI (Next-Generation Interceptor),” Dee Dee Martinez, Comptroller, Missile Defense Agency, told reporters according to a Pentagon transcript.

The Pentagon wants to make sure it sustains and upgrades its existing GBIs while the emerging NGI continues to develop to ensure missile defenses remain operational until the new system is operational. The NGI, according to the MDA’s previous request for proposal, will likely include sensing technologies able to discern, track and intercept multiple incoming threats at one time. Such a system is likely to leverage multiple distinct, yet networked “kill vehicles.”

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While a Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) travels into space to discern and destroy an ICBM, sensors and communications technology are needed to connect with the interceptor prior to engagement. While many of the details, sensors or RF technologies involved are, not surprisingly, unavailable for public discussion, there are a number of substantial cutting-edge improvements emerging quickly.

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Enhancements include things like server consolidation to maximize efficiency and reduce the hardware footprint. As the industry deputy program manager for the GMD effort, Northrop is responsible for fire-control systems, command launch technology, command and control networks and a wide range of computer technology responsible for the launch of an interceptor.

Reducing the hardware footprint and accelerating processing speeds of GMD command and control systems is a key element of these upgrades. In total, modern computing technology has enabled Northrop engineers to compress nine racks of servers into a single rack.

Having fewer hardware components on a GMD system - achieved through compression, smaller computing and data consolidation – is fundamental to improving the reliability of a Ground-Based Interceptor as it ignites and is guided into space.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization