Missile Defense Agency still trying to fill the gaps

Missile Defense Agency still trying to fill the gaps

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Rear Adm. Jon Hill and Acting Director for Operations Michelle Atkinson discuss the fiscal 2020 Missile Defense Agency budget on Tuesday. (Tom Squitieri/TMN)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is seeking money to build and place new radar systems in Hawaii and in the Pacific region as additional layers to guard against possible attacks from China and North Korea, officials from the Missile Defense Agency said.

They also said a new network of sensors in space are already being used to detect missile launches and, ideally, will be integrated into existing missile defense detection systems.

Rear Adm. Jon Hill, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) deputy director, said on Tuesday that the new space sensors were put in place in fiscal 2017. He said the space sensor layer will meld with space-based kill systems to upgrade defenses.

Money for the new radar in Hawaii is budgeted at $274.7 million for development and is scheduled to be tested and fielded in 2023. The MDA would request additional money in the next two years to construct the system.

A location for the ground-based radar in Hawaii has not been determined, Hill said.

Likewise, no location has been decided for the “Pacific Discriminating Radar,” which is to be used to glean midcourse flight information and tracking of missile threats. The MDA is asking for $6.7 million for the development of the system, which is projected to be ready in the 2026 timeframe, according to MDA budget documents.

The MDA’s proposed budget for fiscal 2020 drops $1 billion to $9.4 billion. Much of the budget focuses on the task of expanding the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, a combination of radars, anti-ballistic missiles and other elements  designed to protect the continental United States from intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The MDA plans to add 20 ground-based interceptors to the system in fiscal 2020 at Ft. Greely, Alaska. That would make 64 interceptors there and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

One key element of the advance defense system — a missile-interceptor warhead projected to defend against a potential North Korean attack and known as the “Redesigned Kill Vehicle” — has been delayed because of technical issues, Hill said.

“We’re reassessing the whole program,” Hill told Pentagon reporters. “We did not believe, as a government team, we were ready [so] we determined that the best thing to do is go back and reassess that design and take the time to do it right.”

The Raytheon-built warheads that were deployed when the system was declared operational in late 2004 failed to intercept mock targets in tests. Hill acknowledged those failures, saying “we could do what some programs do — and what the Missile Defense Agency did some years ago: Go ahead and produce what we’ve got, and then deal with reliability issues in the fleet and erode the confidence of the warfighter. We know that is the wrong step.”

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