WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Review has been completed, according to the department’s No. 2 official. But when it will be released remains unknown.
During a media roundtable Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan was asked about the status of the review, a broad-spectrum look at America’s missile defense capabilities that is expected to drive investment in the coming years.
“We don’t have the document release. The strategy is done,” Shanahan said. “Don’t worry about the strategy. The strategy’s been done for quite some time.”
During the roundtable, Shanahan referred many times to how the department’s fiscal 2020 budget request, which will be finalized in the next two months, is strategy-based, drawing from the White House’s National Security Strategy as well as the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy and Nuclear Posture Review.
Those documents were completed and released early in the year, unlike the still-unpublished Missile Defense Review. But Shanahan indicated that the MDR’s findings, even if they are not yet public, are being baked into the FY20 budget plan — news that will be welcomed by industry figures hoping to cash in on what is expected to be a sizable increase in missile defense funding for new capabilities.
American investment in missile defense has been inconsistent over the last three decades, leaving the U.S. without “a comprehensive ballistic missile defense system that would be capable of defending the homeland and allies from robust ballistic missile threats,” the Heritage Foundation wrote in a new report. "The pace of the development of ballistic missile threats, both qualitative and quantitative, outpaces the speed of ballistic missile defense research, development, and deployment.”
When will the report be made public?
Speaking to media Sept. 4, John Rood, who as undersecretary of defense for policy is the point man for the MDR, indicated the report could come out in a matter of weeks.
Rood added he was eager to push out the review “as soon as we can, believe me, on a personal level, I am, and hopefully we will get through the final hurdles in the department to do that very soon.”
But that refrain has been heard before, with Pentagon officials indicating the document would be out in late 2017, then February, then mid-May and then late in the summer.
Some have pointed to a change in focus — from ballistic missile threats to all missile threats, including cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons — as drawing out the process. Shanahan has said the issue was giving Rood time to spin up into the job and add “quality” to a report that largely started before Rood arrived at the Pentagon.
There is also widespread speculation in the missile defense community that the review has been delayed, at least in part, because of the warmed relations between the Trump administration and North Korea.
Notably, the mid-May time frame for release, which had been floated by Shanahan in April, lined up President Donald Trump’s planned meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un; while that meeting was canceled and then eventually happened in June, there was a sense the Pentagon did not want to do anything that could jeopardize those talks, such as releasing a report discussing how the U.S. could counter North Korean capabilities.
Asked Wednesday about the holdup on releasing the document, Shanahan smiled and said, “It’s not me,” before noting that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has been discussing the document with stakeholders ahead of any official rollout.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.