Magazine article National Defense

North Korea, Iran's Advances Fuel Demand for Regional Missile Defense

Magazine article National Defense

North Korea, Iran's Advances Fuel Demand for Regional Missile Defense

Article excerpt

* Advances in ballistic and cruise missile capabilities among potential adversaries are putting U.S. forces and allies at greater risk. The Pentagon is looking to industry to provide solutions to the growing problem, as it beefs up its theater missile defense shields and invests in new technologies.

One asset the Defense Department is buying is the terminal high altitude area defense system, or THAAD, which is produced by Lockheed Martin. THAAD is intended to shoot down incoming missiles both inside and outside the atmosphere with "hit-to-kill" interceptors.

The Army currently has five batteries, but the Pentagon is increasing that number. Seven are fully funded, and the sixth and seventh batteries are slated to be delivered to the Army by 2018, said Vice Adm. James Syring, commander of the Missile Defense Agency.

In its fiscal year 2017 budget request, the Defense Department is asking for $370 million to procure THAAD equipment, and an additional $270 million for research, development, test and evaluation. The Pentagon plans to continue interceptor procurement over the next five years, for a total of more than 400, Syring said.

In December MDA awarded Lockheed Martin a $528 million contract for production and delivery of additional interceptors.

While seven THAAD batteries have been funded, the Army has set the requirement at nine. "We continue to discuss with the Army that requirement and when it would need to be fulfilled and... what the budgeting year would be for that," Syring said. "It's not off the table in any respect, but [it is] not included in this year's budget."

The system is designed to shoot down short- and medium-range missiles, but the Pentagon is planning to test it against an intermediate range ballistic missile in the 2017 to 2018 timeframe. "That would be similar to what we would expect from either North Korea or Iran," Syring said.

The Defense Department is considering permanently basing a THAAD battery in Guam, Gen. Vincent Brooks, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, told reporters at a breakfast in Washington, D.C. in December. "It's first about making sure we have a continuous presence" for readiness and deterrence purposes, he said.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, recently told lawmakers that he expects the rotational THAAD battery currently in Guam to achieve permanent status later this year.

The United States is also interested in potentially stationing THAAD in South Korea in the wake of recent North Korean missile and nuclear tests. Washington and Seoul have agreed to hold formal consultations on the issue. "The goal... is to bilaterally explore the feasibility of THAAD deploying to and operating on the Korean Peninsula at the earliest possible date," U.S. Forces Korea said in a news release in February.

Another key tool in the U.S. arsenal is the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, developed by Raytheon, which gained fame during Operation Desert Storm for shooting down Iraqi Scud missiles.

The Defense Department requested $423 million in fiscal year 2017 to procure 85 Patriot missile segment enhancements, which are expected to improve the range and capability of Lockheed-built Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors.

Raytheon is developing a gallium nitride-based active electronically scanned array radar as a potential upgrade to the Patriot system. The new technology would give the Patriot 360-degree capability to defend against missiles, manned aircraft and drones, according to a company press release. Raytheon expects to have a full-scale main array prototype operational this year.

The Aegis Combat System, manufactured by Lockheed, is also making advances. Baseline 9.Cl--the first integrated air and missile defense version --was recently certified and has already been deployed on several Navy destroyers. It is also at the Aegis Ashore site in Romania, said Jim Sheridan, director of Aegis U. …

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