USA — General Calls Layers Key to Missile Defense Strategy

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2010 — The key to a suc­cess­ful mis­sile defense strat­e­gy is lay­ers, the direc­tor of the Mis­sile Defense Agency said today.

“Dif­fer­ent mis­siles sys­tems [are need­ed] so that if one fails or one can be tricked, you have a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mis­sile sys­tem going after the sec­ond shot,” Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reil­ly said. It’s “very chal­leng­ing to get through two sys­tems.”

O’Reil­ly cov­ered every­thing from U.S. mis­sile defense pri­or­i­ties to coop­er­a­tive efforts with Rus­sia dur­ing a Defense Writ­ers Group break­fast here.

The Mis­sile Defense Agency is in the midst of devel­op­ing the imple­men­ta­tion for the Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile Defense Review, which was released in Feb­ru­ary, O’Reil­ly said. This review set sev­er­al pri­or­i­ties based on a 10-year out­look.

The No. 1 pri­or­i­ty is the defense of the Unit­ed States, the gen­er­al said, fol­lowed by enhanc­ing region­al defens­es. Next is the devel­op­ment of a test­ing pro­gram that estab­lish­es which mis­sile defense sys­tems work, and gain­ing a sense of their capa­bil­i­ties and lim­i­ta­tions before mak­ing a pur­chase.

By doing so, “we devel­op a fis­cal­ly sus­tain­able mis­sile defense, and we also devel­op one that hedges against future threats,” O’Reil­ly said.

The final pri­or­i­ty is to expand inter­na­tion­al capac­i­ty, he said.

“In oth­er words, have not only capa­bil­i­ty, but have the capac­i­ty in this defense area to work close­ly and rely and lever­age on the con­tri­bu­tions from our allies,” O’Reil­ly said. These pri­or­i­ties are what “dri­ve our bud­get devel­op­ment, our tech­nol­o­gy pri­or­i­ties and so forth,” he added.

On the tech­nol­o­gy front, O’Reil­ly not­ed that long-range tar­gets pose the great­est chal­lenge for the Unit­ed States. Intel­li­gence experts work to pre­dict whether coun­tries can build a long-range mis­sile, such as an inter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile or inter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, on their own.

O’Reil­ly said his agency works close­ly with the entire intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty “con­stant­ly judg­ing this.” The chal­lenges are deter­min­ing how an adver­sary will build and devel­op a mis­sile and deter­min­ing infor­ma­tion in a gen­er­al­ly “clan­des­tine busi­ness,” the gen­er­al said.

“We do see a growth of under­ground fac­to­ries,” O’Reil­ly said, as well as mis­siles being built in caves and launch­er vehi­cles being cam­ou­flaged as civil­ian vehi­cles. None of this is new, he not­ed, but it does indi­cate the dif­fi­cul­ties in try­ing to judge how much progress has been made.

He point­ed out a pro­lif­er­a­tion of Scud mis­siles that orig­i­nate from the old Sovi­et Union. Accord­ing to intel­li­gence, he said, more than 6,000 mis­siles are in coun­tries oth­er than NATO, the Unit­ed States, Chi­na and Rus­sia, as well as more than 1,000 launch­ers.

The Unit­ed States has wit­nessed many fail­ures in the devel­op­ment and test­ing of these sys­tems. How­ev­er, O’Reil­ly cau­tioned against com­pla­cen­cy in the face of oth­er coun­tries’ efforts. The Unit­ed States expe­ri­enced fail­ures as well in the 1960s and in mis­sile defense in the 1990s, he not­ed.

“His­to­ry shows that if they are per­sis­tent, they will be suc­cess­ful,” he said. “But his­to­ry also shows that it is extreme­ly chal­leng­ing to be pre­cise on when they will be suc­cess­ful.”

On a poten­tial mis­sile threat from Iran, O’Reil­ly not­ed, “If we’re look­ing at one or two or even five Iran­ian mis­siles. … we have a large abil­i­ty to respond to that.” To pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat, the coun­try not only would have to be suc­cess­ful in devel­op­ment, but in num­bers, he said.

“In my esti­ma­tion, it would have to be more than 10,” he said. “And they would have to be able to suc­cess­ful­ly launch 10.” That would pose a chal­lenge for the U.S. pro­gram, let alone a pro­gram in a dif­fer­ent stage of devel­op­ment, he added.

Iran has shown a space-launch capa­bil­i­ty, he acknowl­edged, based on a test in Feb­ru­ary. And there’s no indi­ca­tion they won’t attempt anoth­er, he said.

“Space launch does give you some of the capa­bil­i­ty you need to devel­op an offen­sive mis­sile,” he said. How­ev­er, the gen­er­al under­scored the dif­fi­cul­ty of design­ing a mis­sile to re-enter the atmos­phere and be some­what accu­rate, let alone sur­vive re-entry. This abil­i­ty lev­el would require sophis­ti­cat­ed sci­ence and test­ing, “and we don’t see evi­dence of that test­ing,” he added.

O’Reil­ly said the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia have been work­ing togeth­er on joint threat assess­ments.

“We’ve also had a lot of inter­ac­tion from a tech­ni­cal point of view of open­ing the access so they can bet­ter under­stand our mis­sile defense,” he said. “We have had now, for a cou­ple of years, a stand­ing open invi­ta­tion for the Rus­sians to vis­it our mis­sile defense assets and go to our mis­sile defense fields.”

Despite the lack of response to that blan­ket invi­ta­tion, he said, Rus­sia recent­ly accept­ed an invi­ta­tion to attend a test of the The­ater High Alti­tude Area Defense sys­tem.

“There is more engage­ment than we’ve seen before, but it is still at the pre­lim­i­nary steps,” he said.

On the road ahead, O’Reil­ly pre­dict­ed remote­ly pilot­ed vehi­cles will fig­ure promi­nent­ly and said the Mis­sile Defense Agency is work­ing close­ly with the Air Force to max­i­mize their poten­tial. The goal, he said, is to “have an air­craft at the right place at the right time in order to inter­cept.”

An advan­tage of remote­ly pilot­ed vehi­cles is that they’re per­sis­tent — they can get into a region and stay there for long dura­tions of time, O’Reil­ly explained. The oth­er advan­tage is their sen­sor capa­bil­i­ty.

“We lit­er­al­ly were shocked when we found out the capa­bil­i­ty for mis­sile defense,” he said. “You can be well over 1,000 kilo­me­ters away, and you have a very good track of a mis­sile.”

Preda­tors now fly in many of the agency’s tests, he said. Preda­tors and future ver­sions of the sen­sor sys­tem on board are “fan­tas­tic” at track­ing mis­sile clus­ters, he added. A pos­si­ble future devel­op­ment is attach­ment pods that can go on a wing, enabling any remote­ly pilot­ed vehi­cle to have a mis­sile defense capa­bil­i­ty as a sen­sor, he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter