WASHINGTON – The missile defense system of 2040 will be networked across nations and feature cyber and directed-energy components – at least if a top US Army general has his way.
Asked by Defense News to describe missile defense 25 years from now, Lt. Gen. David Mann, the head of US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/ Army Forces Strategic Command, put an emphasis on a network that is joint both across the Pentagon services and foreign partners.
"What you are probably going to see is probably more of a combined nature to missile defense," Mann said Monday at the AUSA conference. "You'll see more integration. You'll see more cross-talk, sharing of data, sharing of components. But I think in 25 years from now you're going to see more of a combined integration where we have a lot more allied integration into what we're doing."
"So we might be using a German Patriot radar data, providing data that will queue a Spanish Patriot system or a US patriot launcher," Mann said. "Same thing in the Middle East. Hopefully in the Middle East we will see, maybe, data provided from a Kuwaiti radar that is feeding information to one of the other GCC partners out there to prosecute a threat."
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To lay the groundwork for that future, however, the Army needs to work through the policy hurdles that can make working with allies difficult. While stressing that the US services are doing a "doggone good" job of coordinating amongst themselves, Mann said the Pentagon "could do better" with integrating allied capabilities.
"Some of that, we have to work through some of the policy issues. It's not just US policy, it's also some of the national caveats that are out there" from allies, Mann said. "It's tedious at times, but I think we're starting to see some progress."
While doctrine, training and policy are key, technological developments will of course play a part. Some of those are already coming online through a series of upgrades to the Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems.
Mann also expects improvements in both the cyber and directed-energy portfolios to be in play for missile defense down the line, with the Pentagon trying to bring to bear a wide spectrum of both kinetic and non-kinetic options for destroying incoming threats. Both technologies could be especially effective against the boost phase of flight, Mann said.
But getting there may not be easy, particularly given what Mann acknowledged as "finite" resources for Army science and technology research.
"I think it's fair to say we could always use more dollars, but I don't think it's appropriate for me to second-guess the leadership of the Army, quite frankly," Mann said. He notes that Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, has prioritized readiness for the current force. As a result, "We've been forced to make some cuts or delay, really, in our S&T programs, to make sure that whatever happens right now we can assure the American people that their sons and daughters will have the very best we can give them as they go out the door."
One option Pentagon leadership is looking at in order to drive down technology development costs is getting international partners more involved in that process. That is something that could play out down the line for missile defense, the general predicted.
"I would not be surprised in the future if you see more efforts where we're partnering with our allies to develop future technologies and future systems. I wouldn't be surprised at all," he said.