By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization
(Washington D.C.) Finding, tracking, precisely targeting and exploding an incoming ICBM traveling through space toward a large target has presented challenges to the Missile Defense Agency for many years, as potential adversaries increasingly employ sophisticated decoys and countermeasures.
These factors form the essential conceptual basis upon which the MDA is pursuing its Next-Generation Interceptor program, a technical effort to engineer new missile defense systems capable of replacing and moving beyond the existing Ground Based Interceptor. The program, long underway for several years, calls for a next-generation technology better positioned to track and destroy incoming ICBM threats expected in 2030 and beyond.
Video Above: Colonel Michael Stefanovic, Director of the Strategic Studies Institute for the Air Force sits down for an exclusive interview with Kris Osborn
An attacking ICBM, for example, can travel along with deliberately placed phony missile decoys or travel amid space debris and clutter, factors which can disrupt the targeting sensors built onto a kill vehicle released from a Ground Based Interceptor to intercept and destroy an ICBM.
This is why there has, for many years now, been a large number of MDA and industry efforts to resign seekers, kill vehicles, guidance technology and targeting systems to ensure interceptors can effectively make discernments in space to find and eliminate the correct target.
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The Lockheed team has announced that it has completed its first flight software package for its NGI offering, indicating that their interceptor is making large steps toward being ready for its first test flight.
Both Lockheed and Northrop-Raytheon have been competing for the opportunity to ultimately produce and deliver the NGI. While much of the specifics are likely proprietary or unavailable for security reasons, new NGIs are likely to operate with multi-kill vehicles, meaning a single interceptor will operate and release several actual interceptors with which to collide with and destroy multiple threats. This kind of technique, which has for many years been developed and explored by major industry innovators such as Lockheed and Raytheon, is intended to both discriminate threats from decoys and countermeasures while also bringing an ability to fire multiple interceptors in the event that a volley of enemy ICBMs are traveling through space.
An interesting Lockheed essay, published in Breaking Defense, makes the case for their NGI offering by in part pointing out some of the challenges associated with the existing Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. The discussion raises issues of obsolescence of the existing Ground Based Interceptor and argues that there is always a limit or point at which a legacy system can no longer be upgraded to keep pace with existing threats.
“While recent tests demonstrate the promise of the system, the interceptor has reached a point where it can no longer be simply updated to meet the demand,” the Lockheed paper writes.
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.