A New Approach to Ballistic Missile Defense for Countering Antiaccess/Area-Denial Threats from Precision-Guided Weapons
Corbett, Mike, Air & Space Power Journal
Advanced capabilities in a variety of foreign weapon systems have prompted many discussions about antiaccess and area denial (A2AD) over the last decade. Such capabilities, which allow an adversary to apply force at greater ranges or with greater accuracy, will affect many aspects of allied campaign planning. This article addresses one subset of A2AD: the new ballistic missile technologies that an enemy can use to hold even mobile forces at risk at ranges in excess of 1,000 kilometers (km). This involves more than just China's antishipping ballistic missile- and evidence exists that other countries are developing these technologies as well.1 If successful, they could have a significant effect on planned missile defense systems. In particular, a maneuvering threat will have a higher probability of hitting an undefended target, place more targets at risk, and have less susceptibility to interception.
This is not a revelation- the mechanics of ballistic flight are well known. Less well known is the fact that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has chosen to focus nearly all resources for developing missile defense not on the A2AD threat but on the "early intercept" concept that supports the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). Since 2009 the MDA has committed most of its development efforts to improving the Navy's SM-3 interceptor and supporting sensors. The SM-3 is an established system with a long history of success against purely ballistic targets, but it was not designed for the challenges of a maneuvering threat. Furthermore, the MDA has dedicated nearly all of its recent development to the midcourse phase of flight, where the threat has the greatest freedom to introduce confusion, and has ignored the boost and terminal phases of flight, where the threat remains most identifiable and most vulnerable.2
The maneuvering threats presented in this article are based upon foreign research that appears in English in the open technical literature. The article examines the development of simple maneuver schemes to avoid both tracking and interception and of subsequent maneuvers to hit an intended target. Such maneuvers can prove effective against midcourse interceptors with limited agility, but they have negligible effect on an agüe interceptor designed for boost-phase intercepts. The analysis presented here shows that increased interceptor agility is more effective than increased speed if the threat maneuvers. It also demonstrates that the Air Force's proposed Airborne Weapons Layer (AWL) could effectively counter these maneuvering threats.3 Finally, the article discusses whether the military services or a singlefunction defense agency should make the key decisions that define future operational capabilities in this critical component of air superiority.
The Missile Defense Agency's Current Plans and the Maneuvering Threat
The SM-3 family of systems, cornerstone of the MDA's development plans, was designed to intercept medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase of flight- assuming that decoys may be present but not maneuvers.4 At present, the MDA emphasizes improving the SM-3's sensor technology, discrimination algorithms, and divert-system reliability, as well as substantially boosting the interceptor's speed. This approach results in kinetic kill vehicles with low agility- low divert velocity and low lateral acceleration- and a primary concentration on increasing the effective range through higher speeds. It yields attractive, very wide area coverage from a single site but does not solve the underlying discrimination and kill-assessment issues. Moreover, if the threat maneuvers during midcourse as a countermeasure- with or without decoys- performance falls off sharply.
To fully appreciate the issues, one should understand what an adversary must do to attain this maneuvering capability and why maneuverability is so lucrative. A ballistic missile that contributes to A2AD operations must have precision guidance, to either a fixed or mobile target. …