WASHINGTON — The Army is coming out with a new missile defense strategy this summer and the Pentagon is expected to release an overarching missile defense review in short order. Combined, the initiatives will guide the way the future air-and-missile defense force will operate.
New thinking about missile defense is long overdue, many analysts and military leaders are saying, and questions abound over whether the air and missile defense force can handle new and emerging threats and if the right structures are in place to transform the force.
Not much has changed in air and missile defense for over two decades, according to retired Rear Adm. Arch Macy, who is a former director of the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization (JIAMDO).
“I go back to Desert Storm and look at our IAMD capability in Desert Storm and what it is today some 25 years later, and I’m not horribly impressed,” he said during a Jan. 25 panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Hoping to inspire, CSIS rolled out a report Jan. 25 on distributed defense and new operational concepts for IAMD.
The report suggests how the Army and the rest of the Defense Department might adapt its missile defense framework to be better prepared to defend against near peer adversaries, where air superiority and access is not a given and adversaries present new challenges that the current AMD force is not prepared to handle.
What the Army could be doing
The Army needs to think about more distributed AMD operations as it faces new threats, according to Tom Karako, one of the authors of the CSIS report and director of the Missile Defense Project at the think tank.
Karako proposes several operational concepts to direct the services toward more distributed air and missile defense from enabling launch- and engage-on-remote capabilities and better networking systems to dispersing elements of missile defense batteries over a wider area.
He also suggests designing launchers to accommodate mixed loads of interceptors that he calls “layered defense in a box.”
The Army should also consider offense-defense launchers that can be used for both missions and containerized launchers that can be better concealed, as well as a “passive defense shell game” where numerous “dummy launchers” with optical, thermal and electronic signatures would be in some containers while real launchers would be in others, increasing the guesswork for the enemy.
“Such deployments could impose costs on an adversary, as well as present them with new dilemmas, such as the expenditure of resources on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance or the wastage of precision-guided munitions,” the report states.
Vince Sabio, the program manager for the hypervelocity gun weapon system at the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, said the current AMD force is inflexible, only designed for ballistic missile threats, and is expensive.
He said new capability needs to be able to defend a 360-degree area of coverage and handle threats coming from many trajectories. The AMD force needs to be able to engage multiple threats and different types of threats using more flexible weapon systems where one launcher or one type of interceptor can handle threats across the spectrum.
And the arsenal needs to be fashioned in such a way the adversary cannot gain an accurate inventory of the AMD force’s capability, Sabio said. He suggested even storying interceptors in conex boxes so adversaries attempting to garner intel can’t figure out if the boxes littered around a base are storing weapons or something benign like pet food.
What the Army is doing
The Army is attempting a more layered missile defense, particularly in the European theater where it is seeking to rebuild a Short-Range Air Defense (SHORAD) capability.
The service is also looking to add to its Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense (IAMD) system with a new radar capable of detecting threats from 360 degrees. The current Patriot system has blind spots.
And at the heart of a future IAMD is the Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) which is the brains of the architecture and will network other missile defense and fires systems together on the battlefield.
Currently under development, the Army is internally building a multi-mission launcher that can fire a multitude of interceptors to go up against a variety of threats. Among the interceptors, the service has qualified are the AIM-9X Sidewinder and the FIM-92 Stinger. More interceptors will be qualified in the coming years.
Pushing the envelope to adapt to emerging threat environments, the Army has taken serious steps toward ultimately fielding a high-energy weapon on a combat vehicle and will be demonstrating a 50-kilowatt laser on a truck this year. The technology is considered disruptive, particularly when it comes to considering what it costs the service per shot to take out inexpensive threats. And it would ultimately allow the service to handle salvos of incoming threats without running out of interceptors.
While the Army is formulating a new AMD strategy it is also building a cross-functional team to look at IAMD as part of the service’s new Futures Command. The new command is being created in order to better address modernization priorities. IAMD is one of these priorities.
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The struggle is real
The report addresses a grim reality, that near-peer adversaries have gone to school on U.S. missile defense capabilities over the past 15 years. “Today near-peer adversaries have developed and fielded capabilities that now hold at risk U.S. fixed forward bases and operational concepts,” according to the report.
“We cannot wait for the specter of smoking Patriot launchers in the Polish countryside or on the Korean peninsula to be the inspiration for transforming and adapting the air and missile defense force,” the report states.
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But despite the acknowledgement that a new course for missile defense needs to be charted, being imaginative and proactive in an approach to a new missile defense architecture within the Pentagon has been stifled for a variety of reasons from cost to organizational bureaucracy.
Sabio said while the CSIS report lays out “a practical as well as imaginative type of missile defense architecture” it’s been difficult and not always practical to take imaginative ideas conjured up in the Defense Research Projects Agency or his own organization and move them into reality.
Adversaries seem to be ahead on the imagination front, he said. For example, the Russian Club K is a containerized missile launching system which provides inherent obfuscation.
Imagination “is great,” Sabio said, “but really there is kind of a rubber meets the road aspect so we have to pass some of these interesting concepts through the filter of operations working hand-in-hand.”
More wargaming — which takes time, money and senior leadership support — needs to be done to see what’s really going to work for a future AMD force, Macy added.
Changing the AMD force is something that the Pentagon knows it has to do, Macy said, but to get to the point of actively transforming it requires taking the time to “do the conceptual doctrine, command-and-control, organizational war-gaming and then start to understand what you would need to do to these systems to employ them effectively.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.