WASHINGTON — The U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s $9.4 billion budget request for fiscal 2020 — while slightly smaller than last year’s budget of $9.9 billion — maintains many efforts from previous years to defend the homeland and counter regional threats, but it does not reflect some of the major ambitions laid out in the recently released Missile Defense Review.
The two-year delayed Missile Defense Review, released in January, lists space-based missile defense sensors and laser-armed drones as part of a wish list for missile defense capabilities, but these new desires are not highlighted in the agency’s FY20 summary of its budget request released March 12.
The lack of new efforts to get after MDR ambitions could partly be due to the fact that the review called for a significant number of studies over the next six months to gain clarity on the way forward for a variety of potential missile defense efforts, such as the development and fielding of a space-based missile intercept layer capable of boost-phase defense as well as other tracking and discrimination technologies.
For a comprehensive look at the Pentagon’s FY20 budget request, click here.
With so much up in the air, the FY20 budget looks familiar. This budget, just like last year’s, aims to increase reliability and the robustness of the current system, while building on capacity and capability and developing technology to counter advanced missile threats.
The MDA is requesting $1.2 billion in FY20 to continue the expansion of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD, designed to counter a rapidly developing intercontinental ballistic missile threat from North Korea.
The MDA received funding last year to expand the fleet of GMD interceptors, or GBI, from 44 to 64 in silos at two missile fields in Fort Greely, Alaska, requesting $926.4 million in FY19 to expand the system.
According to the MDA’s request, the agency plans to equip 20 GBIs with its Redesigned Kill Vehicle. The agency is requesting $412.4 million in FY20 to develop the RKV.
The RKV will increase the performance of the current exoatmospheric kill vehicle, which has struggled in testing.
The MDA is also planning a major test of the GMD system in FY20 that should build off the expected FY19 salvo test of the system, where two GBIs will be fired (which is more operationally realistic) against an ICBM threat. That test will focus on proving the effectiveness of an upgrade to the GBI’s booster, Michelle Atkinson, the MDA acting director for operations, told reporters at the Pentagon on March 12.
The MDA is asking for $98.1 million for the test program as well as $9.5 million to mitigate GBI obsolescence-driven redesign and testing, and another $153.2 million for maintenance and sustainment.
Additionally the MDA will continue to fund the Sea-based X-band radar, asking for $128.2 million in FY20. Atkinson said the radar spent 500 days without a port visit. The radar is expected to log 305 days at sea and 60 days in port for maintenance in FY20. It’s expected a replacement dome will be fielded in 2021.
The MDA is also planning the initial fielding of its Long Range Discrimination Radar at Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, in FY20, and the agency is requesting $136.4 million for the project. It’s expected the radar will be fully operational in 2022.
The MDA is moving forward on its plan to establish a homeland defense radar in Hawaii and is asking for $247.7 million in FY20 to improve threat discrimination capability and increase the ability of the GMD system to defend the island state. Its initial fielding is expected in 2023.
The agency is also proceeding with plans to add a Pacific discriminating radar to its web of layered defense in the Pacific region. The MDA is requesting $6.7 million in FY20 to develop the program and field it in the 2026 time frame, but has yet to determine a location for the radar.
The Pentagon continues to focus on the Aegis ballistic missile defense system and Aegis Ashore systems in Romania and Poland, as well as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system and the Patriot air and missile defense system for regional defense and to have a variety of strategically positioned radars.
The agency is asking for $727.5 million in Aegis BMD efforts including the integration of the SM-3 Block IIA missile into the Aegis BMD weapon system.
Funding is also requested to conduct a flight test of the SM-3 Block IIA capability in FY20 against an ICBM following test failures. The entire Aegis BMD test program requires $169.8 million, according to the request.
The agency also plans to spend $697.8 million in FY20 for SM-3 procurement.
The MDA would like to spend $302.8 million for THAAD development in FY20 to include efforts to tie together Patriot and THAAD capabilities, also funded last year, as part of an emerging operational need out of South Korea. The agency also wants $425.9 million to procure 37 more THAAD interceptors after a large plus-up last year.
Another $99.8 million is requested in FY20 to maintain THAAD operations including the two forward-deployed batteries in Guam and South Korea.
The MDA budget request acknowledges several delays in key programs.
The RKV, which will initially outfit 20 GBIs, is delayed by two years. The agency rescheduled its critical design review of the system from late 2018 to 2020, according to budget documents.
“While the overall RKV design is mature and robust, MDA does not want to enter the CDR until the complete RKV design meets all of the requirements,” the MDA’s budget summary states.
"We came through a preliminary design review as we approached the critical design review at the end of last year,” Rear Adm. Jon Hill, the MDA deputy director, said during the Pentagon briefing. “We did not believe as a government team that we were ready to take that step into that critical design review, and so, through coordination in the department, all the way up to the undersecretary for research and engineering, we determined that the best thing to do was to go back and assess that design and take the time to do it right.”
Hill added, alluding to the previous struggles with the GMD exoatmospheric kill vehicle: “We could do what some programs do and what the Missile Defense Agency did years ago, which was to go ahead and produce what we’ve got and then deal with reliability issues within the fleet and then erode the confidence of the war fighter. We know that is the wrong step.”
The plan is to conduct the first controlled flight test of the RKV in FY22 with an intercept flight test in FY23 and a second test in 2024.
As a result of the delay of the RKV critical design review, the plan to finish up the installation of the 20 new GBIs at Greely will see a delay to 2025.
Additionally, it was expected the Pacific radar would be fielded in FY24, but it’is now expected to be fielded in FY26, according to a slide provided during MDA’s Pentagon briefing. According to last year’s request, the agency had planned to conduct site surveys in FY19.
The Aegis Ashore system in Poland is delayed and won’t reach operational capability until 2020. The site was supposed to reach operational capability last year. According to Hill, there were delays constructing the site, not related to quality of construction, but rather due to weather issues, a lack of available materials and a need for more on-site workers. Those issues have been resolved, he confirmed.
The agency’s space-related funding remains focused on its Space-based Kill Assessment experiment and it is requesting $27.6 in FY20 to continue with the effort.
The SKA uses a network of sensors hosted on commercial satellites, which are now deployed as of the end of calendar year 2018, to detect and track missile threats.
The SKA will be used in the upcoming salvo test of the GMD system, according to Hill.
In FY20, the agency will assess what steps would be necessary to add the system to the operational ballistic missile defense system.
The MDA is also continuing to fund satellite operations and sustainment of the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, requesting $35.8 million in FY20 to keep the satellites, first launched in 2009, orbiting.
And while the MDR calls for a study to look at a space-based sensor layer, Hill was unable to say whether the MDA, the Pentagon or a specific service might take leadership of any efforts once more clarity is gained on a way forward.
But without a clear path forward, funding and projects remained consistent with the FY19 priorities.
On a path to understanding the feasibility of a space-based directed-energy missile intercept layer, the MDA is investing in a new line of effort, experimenting with neutral particle-beam technology.
“MDA will address laser scaling by investing in laser component technology required to demonstrate efficient electric lasers,” the MDA summary states.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.