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Missile Defence Chief Explains Missile Defense Achievements In 2005

Washington (UPI) Jan 05, 2006
Lt. Gen. Henry A. "Trey" Obering III is director of the Missile Defense Agency. He spoke with UPI National Security Correspondent Martin Sieff

Q. The year seemed to begin very badly for the MDA but you ended it with one striking achievement after another. How would you characterize it?

A. We've had a tremendous year this year because we reached key goals on our THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), Aegis, Ground-based Midcourse Defense and ABL (Airborne Laser) programs. We had a successful Aegis intercept test in November and a successful THAAD flight test the same month. And on Dec. 13, we had a successful flight test of the operational configuration of the Ground-Based Interceptor.

We have seen major progress in developing and deploying both sensors and weapons in recent months. We have successfully acquired and tracked ICBMs with our Forward-Based X-Band radar. We have tested our Cobra Dane radar against an air-launched target and achieved an intercept solution generated and processed by our fire control system.

We have achieved high-power radiation with the successful tests in the Gulf of Mexico of our Sea-Based X-Band radar that is now in transit (to southern Alaska) and we have added four Aegis Long-Range Surveillance and Tracking destroyers to our force making 10 in all.

We have added a second Aegis engagement cruiser to our force and emplaced two more Ground-Based Midcourse interceptors at Fort Greely (in Alaska) making eight there and two additional interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. And our Airborne Laser has achieved full duration lase at operational power and completed the initial flight tests of its beam control, fire control system on the heavily modified 747.

Q. What's next?

A. In our emerging Block Capabilities for 2008, we plan to have up to 38 Ground-Based Interceptors available to defend against potential threats from North Korea and Iran and an initial defense which could be deployed against asymmetric threats with an improved capability against regional threats. With that goal in sight, we anticipate having 15 Aegis destroyers deployed for engagement capability with additional Standard Missile-3 interceptors and 24 ground-launched Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptors.

We also plan to have deployed two additional forward-based X-band radars and two surveillance and tracking satellites to give us greater mobility to address surprise threats.

We are planning three more Aegis interceptor flights in 2006 and more THAAD flights with a scheduled intercept test in March. And we plan three more flights of the Ground-Based Midcourse Interceptor in 2006, including at least one intercept of a target warhead.

Q. Ballistic Missile Defense has a lot of skeptics and the Missile Defense Agency has a lot of critics. Why are your programs so important?

A. Iran and North Korea are clearly interested in ballistic missiles and their capabilities. The threat is growing. In 1972, only eight countries in the world had an effective ballistic missile defense capability and most of them, like Britain and France, were allies of the United States. Today, more than 20 countries have ballistic missile capabilities, and many of them are not friends and allies of the United States.

People saw what happened in the first and second Gulf wars. They saw the tremendous superiority of the U.S. armed forces so they are looking for a way to counterbalance that strength in order to threaten or coerce the United States. For such nations, the ballistic missile is the great strategic equalizer. It is their weapon of choice.

The 1991 and 2003 Gulf Wars showed that countries will use ballistic missiles against our forces. They will use them to threaten our foreign policy objectives by holding our cities and high-value assets hostage to their weapons. And they will use them to deny our forces access or to coerce a withdrawal of friendly forces engaged in a regional conflict.

It is because of that that we have been given our directive. On May 20, 2003, the White House announced, 'The United States plans to begin deployment of a set of missile defense capabilities in 2004. These capabilities will serve as a starting point for fielding improved and expanded missile defense capabilities later.' We have been engaged in implementing that policy.

Q. What is the overall strategy governing the programs that the MDA is developing?

A. The MDA has been charged with the mission of developing an integrated, layered Ballistic Missile Defense System to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies and its friends from ballistic missiles of all ranges. We are developing systems capable of engaging them in all phases of flight.

We will build up a multi-layered system against ballistic missiles in all phases of their flight. It is much, much harder to overcome that kind of complex defense.

Our programs divide into anti-ballistic missile capabilities aimed at the boost phase, the mid-course and the terminal phases of a ballistic missile's flight.

For the boost phase, we are developing the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) and the Airborne Laser (ABL). The KEI is carried on a very fast acceleration booster. The ABL operates on the directed energy principle.

For midcourse interceptions, we have the Aegis sea-based system, the Ground-Based Midcourse interceptor system and the Multiple Kill Vehicle programs.

For the terminal phase we have the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-3 and the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD)

This is not our final architecture. We know our threats will change. We are going to adapt it as we go along.

Q. Can you explain what you mean by an integrated approach to Ballistic Missile Defense?

A. We are developing the ability to combine different sensors with different weapons. We are engineering the ability to use the Aegis radar with a ground-based system to launch the interceptor based upon the tracking information it receives from the ship. We can mix and match our resources for operational capabilities and thereby tremendously expand our engagement zones and detection capabilities.

We have command, control and battle management systems already set up at Northern Command and Strategic Command and integrated with the National Capitol Region.

Q. What is the status of your radar deployment capabilities?

A. We are deploying the Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX) and we have are upgrading the Fylingdales-based early warning radar in northeast England.

The SBX is a 30-storey structure carried on giant pontoons. It is being carried to its southern Alaska deployment on the back of the Blue Marlin, a commercial transport vessel. It has already been carried around Cape Horn, the most dangerous part of the passage.

Our radar capabilities are now so advanced that for example if we placed the SBX in from the Chesapeake Bay (on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard) we could track a baseball-sized object over San Francisco (on the West Coast over 3,000 miles away).

We have also developed the Forward-Based X-Band Radar-Transportable (FBX-T). This expands our detection zones tremendously.

We have tested our Alaska-based Cobra Dane (radar) launching a test vehicle out of the back of a C-17 transport aircraft. We have two Aegis engagement cruisers (already) deployed.

Q. Are you pleased with the progress of the Aegis program?

A. We have had a series of successes with Aegis. We conducted testing between 2000 and 2002 on the (Aegis system) Kill vehicle and booster. We have successfully intercepted a target warhead in seven out of eight tests. The last test involved a "separating" warhead, which is representative of more modern medium range missiles now being developed and deployed by North Korea and Iran.

We now have two U.S. Navy cruisers equipped for deployment of the SM-3 interceptor missile, and we're continuing to upgrade and integrate radars aboard a number of destroyers. Eventually, up to three cruisers will have a missile launch capability, as well as a number of destroyers.

Q. What were the causes of the widely reported test failures your program suffered over the past year?

A. Last December there was a software timing issue with our long range Ground-based Midcourse Defense interceptor test from the South Pacific. We discovered that we had constrained ourselves by building (excessively low) tolerances into the software for some built in self checks that the interceptor goes through prior to launch. The fix that was required to prevent the error happening again was a change in one line of code of software. That solved the problem and solved that synchronization issue.

In the February 2005 test the issue (that caused the failure) was not in the missile or its programming but one of the three lateral seismic support arms holding for the interceptor in the silo. One of those three arms did not completely retract. Some salt water had got into the bottom of the silo on Kwajalein Island after it had been modified to accept the operational booster configuration and corroded a hinge mechanism on the support arm. It wasn't rocket science. It was a fault in basic construction quality control.

So for the last 10 months we've gone back to basics. Based on this review, I'm confident of the configurations we have in the ground in Alaska and California to be able to do their mission should they be called upon to do so. Our previous testing indicated that once the kill vehicle is launched into its final intercept phase, it is successful. Tremendous energy is released in these hit to kill interceptions.

There's nothing left because we are dealing with the kinetic energy of very high velocity interceptions. That explains the robustness of the engineering that goes into these weapons. You're talking of speeds of up to four miles per second (14.400 miles per hour) That is why, this most recent successful flight test of the interceptor was so important.

Q. Is the Ground-Based Midcourse program back on track? The Airborne Laser program?

A. Our Dec. 13 test involving an operationally configured interceptor launched from Kwajalein was a complete success. It flew absolutely as designed in terms of trajectory. It not only fulfilled the objectives of the first flight as planned, but we actually advanced to fulfill some of the secondary objectives of the second flight. We're that much ahead.

On the ABL, we've had much progress with our lasing and beam control and fire control flight test program with the modified 747 so that program is on rack as well.

Q. Critics charge your program hasn't received sufficient oversight. How do you answer them?

A. We are scrutinized a lot more than most other defense programs. In fact, we have been audited on average three and four more times a year than any service by the Government Accountability Office. I get overseen all the time. I sit down with my boss once a week and once a quarter we do a formal review of the program.

But we are different that most other Defense programs because there was no defense at all out there (against intercontinental ballistic missiles). We had no ability to defend ourselves beyond defense against short-range weapons that the Patriot system gave us.

But testing in 2000 and 2002 with four of five successful intercepts with prototypes of our long range system gave us the confidence to move ahead with the (ground-based) interceptor deployment and it fact it is in the law.

The National Missile Defense Act of 1999 law signed by President Bill Clinton required us to deploy anti-ballistic missile defenses as quickly as soon as they were technologically possible.

We believe hit to kill missile defense is now a reality, and we have proven the technology.

We try to make our testing as operationally realistic as we can. We test operational capabilities involving speed, azimuth and the operational configuration of the interceptor.

Q. Another frequent criticism is the huge cost of the BMD programs. How do justify that?

A. If you look back at every penny that has been spent on ballistic missile defense since 1983 when President Ronald Reagan authorized the program, it comes to around $92 billion.

One attack on the United States -- 9/11 -- cost at least $83 billion and that was not with an attack with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). If we can prevent even one of these, we have to try to do so. We can't afford to have that kind of attack on our soil. We should not be viewing these systems as a cost to our country, but an investment in its defense.

Are we getting a proper return for our investment in ballistic missile defense? I believe we are. We try to base ourselves on Knowledge Points. We set specific targets that programs have to reach within certain periods of time and they are held accountable to do so. I told the ABL program, we are going to meet certain specific goals within a fixed period of time and they did so. I told the KEI program, if you can't achieve the acceleration necessary for interception, you would be terminated.

We are going to continue to be hard in our demands. We are going to continue to demand results.

Source: United Press International

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