WASHINGTON — The unclassified version of the U.S. Missile Defense Review, released by the Pentagon on Oct. 27, contains no major surprises when it comes to strategy, but missile defense experts say it lacks a clear execution plan.

The new review takes up 17 pages in the 80-page unclassified version of the U.S. National Defense Strategy, also released Oct. 27. The classified version is lengthier and more comprehensive, defense officials said in a briefing at the Pentagon.

The National Defense Strategy, for the first time ever, includes the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review. In years past, the major guidance documents were unveiled separately.

The Trump administration released the last Missile Defense Review in 2019 — a 108-page document that maintained a large amount of continuity with the MDR of 2010, but placed the missile defense enterprise in the context of great power competition against Russia and China for the first time.

“The Missile Defense Review largely represents a continuation of current policy on missile defense and does little to clarify the administration’s strategy on how missile defense should be adjusted to meet growing threats,” said Patty-Jane Geller, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation think tank.

“It is disappointing to see another missed opportunity to bring more coherence to our missile defense policy,” the missile defense and nuclear deterrence expert told Defense News.

“For example, the MDR commits to the priority of homeland missile defense and staying ahead of the North Korean threat. It also rightly stresses the importance of improving our ability to address advanced threats like hypersonic weapons,” she said. “Yet, it gives little information about an actionable plan to meet these growing challenges.”

The review reaffirms that homeland missile defense is America’s top missile defense priority. The U.S. will continue to modernize and expand the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, or GMD, system, which was built to protect the U.S. homeland from intercontinental ballistic missiles from North Korea and Iran.

The system consists of 44 interceptors buried in the ground, primarily at Fort Greely, Alaska, with a handful at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, a network of space-based and terrestrial-based sensors, and an integrated command-and-control system.

The review shows a commitment to continuing to develop the Next Generation Interceptor, or NGI, expected to be fielded around 2028, to augment and potentially replace current interceptors. The current plan is to acquire 20 of those interceptors, according to a Pentagon official at the briefing. The timeline and fielding plan is not laid out in the MDR.

Geller noted that the MDR commits to improving homeland missile defense, but a recent Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate’s version of the fiscal 2023 defense policy bill objects to a provision that would require a funding plan to buy additional NGIs that would help outpace the North Korean threat.

The brevity of the review “leaves several issues unmentioned,” Tom Karako, a missile defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Defense News. One of those issues is the absence of timelines and phases.

“It is one thing to say the United States must defend Guam, that we must have hypersonic defense and that space sensors are critical. But there are no express milestones or dates to assess whether they will be available within the decade, let alone at the speed of relevance,” he said.

Moreover, Geller noted while the MDR commits to hedging against advanced technologies under development by China and Russia, like hypersonic weapons, a Statement of Administration Policy also objects to additional funding for the Glide Phase Interceptor that the Missile Defense Agency is developing to destroy hypersonic missiles in flight.

The MDR also “fails to clarify U.S. policy on defending against Russian and Chinese missiles,” Geller said.

“It reiterates the current position to rely solely on nuclear deterrence — rather than missile defense — to defend the homeland from Russian and Chinese ballistic missiles, but then commits to defending Guam as part of the homeland against China, and defending the homeland from Russian and Chinese cruise missiles,” she added.

The review stresses the need to prioritize the missile defense architecture on Guam, which is already underway. “Guam’s defense, which will include various active and passive missile defense capabilities, will contribute to the overall integrity of integrated deterrence and bolster the U.S. operational strategy in the Indo-Pacific region,” the review stated.

Other missing pieces, according to Karako, include the “usual” assurance against arms control limitations, the need for increasing production quantities, and the need for maintaining flexible acquisition authorities or who exactly will manage the new “missile defeat” enterprise.

Missile defeat “encompasses the range of activities to counter the development, acquisition, proliferation, potential and actual use of adversary offensive missiles of all types, and to limit damage from such use,” according to the review.

Using the term “missile defeat” is one area where the MDR branches out from past iterations, Karako noted.

“The use of ‘missile defeat’ represents a subtle but important shift, which applies broadly to the missile defense enterprise,” he said. “A broad defense and defeat-dominant posture towards North Korea remains intact, but attack operations and other novel measures left of launch will help size the requirements for active missile defense interceptors within the comprehensive missile defeat enterprise.”

The 2022 MDR also “notably recognizes how various air and missile threats would be used in conjunction for complex and integrated attacks,” he added. “It is critical and long overdue to acknowledge that adversaries will attempt to suppress U.S. and allied air and missile defense capabilities.”

The 2018 National Defense Strategy, released during the Trump administration, endorsed dispersed basing and operations, but the 2019 MDR “did not apply that logic to [air and missile defense],” Karako said.

The 2022 review “does so explicitly,” he added.

“Future air and missile defense capabilities must also be more mobile, flexible, survivable, and affordable, and emphasize disaggregation, dispersal, and maneuver to mitigate the threat from adversary missiles,” the review stated.

The review also heavily emphasizes the need to bolster regional defense and deterrence through “close cooperation” with allies and partners on Integrated Air and Missile Defense, or IAMD.

“IAMD represents an effort to move beyond platform-specific missile defense toward a broader approach melding all missile defeat capabilities — defensive, passive, offensive, kinetic, non-kinetic — into a comprehensive joint and combined construct,” the document stated.

“As such, the United States will continue to pursue joint, allied and partner IAMD capabilities needed to maintain a credible level of regional defensive capability for joint maneuver forces and critical infrastructure against all missile threats from any adversary in order to protect U.S. forces abroad, maintain freedom of maneuver and strengthen security commitments to our allies and partners,” the review read.

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.

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