Midcourse Defense, Guam, hypersonics lead issues at MDA

Air Force photograph by Airman Kadielle Shaw
A Ground-based Interceptor missile, an element of the nation’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, was launched from North Vandenberg today at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time by Space Launch Delta 30 officials, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, and U.S. Northern Command. (U.S. Space Force photo by Airman Kadielle Shaw)


In 2021, the Missile Defense Agency awarded contracts to Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to advance development of its next generation interceptor, or NGI program — a key component of its ground-based midcourse defense, or GMD, system.

Both companies have said they are on track to deliver faster than what the government initially asked, according to the director of the Missile Defense Agency.

“I will tell you both companies are saying they can get to first emplacement earlier than the government reference schedule of 2028,” said Navy Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, during a virtual discussion Aug. 12, 2022, with Defense News. “I will tell you that there is a long road between now and then. And so, we’ll just keep on path. Both are performing very well. Two different designs, both incorporating multiple kill vehicles — that’s where the threat drives us.”

The GMD is a part of the U.S. ballistic missile defense system, which is meant to engage and destroy limited intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile threats in space. Part of the GMD are ground-based interceptors, which are the missiles that engage and destroy incoming threats to the United States. The NGIs will be advanced interceptors designed to protect the nation against intercontinental ballistic missile attack from rogue nations.

Continued development of the GMD program is the top priority for MDA, said Hill. Also on his list of priorities are the defense of Guam and countering the threat posed by hypersonic missiles.
On Guam, the MDA is working with the Army on the initial steps of placing missile defense capabilities on the island, Hill said. Plans for that system are included in the president’s 2023 budget submittal.

Navy photograph by PO3 Naomi Johnson
APRA HARBOR, Guam (Aug. 11, 2021) – An aerial view of U.S. Naval Base Guam shows several vessels moored in Apra Harbor, including vessels from the United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group 21, Aug. 9. The deployment is the U.K.’s first by a carrier strike group in the Indo-Pacific for almost 25 years and marks a historic achievement in the bilateral partnership between the U.S. and U.K. The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) is deployed with the strike group, as are F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), HMS Kent (F78), HMS Defender (D63), RFA Fort Victoria (A387), RFA Tidespring (A136), Royal Netherlands Navy frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805). French Ship Dupuy de Lome (A759), USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204), USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52), USS Jackson (LCS 6), USS America (LHA 6), along with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), were also in Guam for a scheduled port visit. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Naomi Johnson)

“The nice thing about PB23, it does lay down the basic architecture of the systems that will go on to Guam,” Hill said. “The department did fund us at a level that allows us to start environmental impact surveys. That allows us to do the sighting work.”

Last week, MDA finished a “sighting summit” and was able to visit each site in Guam which has been proposed as a location for elements of missile defense there, Hill said.

“It’s not final, but we have a very good feel for at least technically and operationally where things should go in order for it to function as a system,” he said.

The MDA is working closely with the Army on the defense of Guam, Hill said. The MDA, he said, has funding in PB23 for both ballistic missile defense capability and hypersonic missile defense capability, while the Army has funding for cruise missile defense.

Air Force photograph by Jose Davila
The nation’s ground-based midcourse defense system is tested at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., March 25, 2019. Vandenberg is now a Space Force base.

“What’s great is both systems kind of have a crossover in what they can do,” he said. “And so the integration of those into a command suite with command-and-control battle management on top of it is the basic architecture.”

For development of the glide phase interceptor, of GPI program, part of a defense against hypersonic missiles, the MDA in early 2021 initially chose three contractors to compete on the design. In June, the MDA narrowed it down to just two companies, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, said Hill.

“We developed the glide phase interceptor concept because when you look at that threat, its vulnerability occurs in the glide phase,” Hill said. “It’s through its ballistic boost, or its through its launch or it’s coming up as a cruise missile. But when it’s in that glide phase, that’s where it does broad maneuvers, that’s where it’s bleeding off heat, [and] that is where it’s the most vulnerable.

And you can track it, and you can see it and you can develop fire control on it. And we know that we can do that now. So what we’re missing is that weapon.”

Hill said following winnowing the selection from three companies to two, MDA is on path to a system requirements review later this year for GPI.

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