With hypersonic worries, lawmakers request reports on US missile defense

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Bravo Battery, 1-1 Air Defense Artillery Battalion, and Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force’s 8th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group, conducted simulated scenario missile defense on Camp Amami as part of Orient Shield 21-2.(Staff Sgt. Christopher Schmiett/US Army)

WASHINGTON: A House Armed Service Committee panel wants the Defense Department to submit a new assessment detailing the Pentagon’s ability to defend against incoming missile threats, according to draft legislation released today.

The markup section of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act from the HASC subcommittee on strategic forces also includes several provisions requesting the department submit reports that detail plans to modernize missile defense systems and enhance sensor architecture, and a report identifying current gaps in the missile defense.

“The committee notes advances in various missile technologies by foreign states, to include advances in hypersonic weapons, increasing capability and capacity of long-range precision fires, and continued testing of long-range missiles by rogue states,” the committee wrote in the direct report language. “The committee continues to encourage the Department of Defense to analyze and assess the evolving security environment and threats posed by advancing missile and rocket capabilities of near-peer and rogue states.”

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The House panel’s section would require the director of the Missile Defense Agency, along with the undersecretary of defense for policy, chief of naval operations and commander of US Northern Command to deliver a report assessing numerous missile defense capabilities against current and future ballistic missiles threats. The report must include details on how the current homeland ballistic missile defense architecture “would need to be adjusted to defend against two or more nuclear-capable rogue nations,” including cost estimates.

The draft legislation also requires the Department of Defense to submit an overarching strategy for defeating hypersonic missile threats using asymmetric capabilities, including directed energy, microwave systems, cyber and “any other capabilities.”

Notably, the markup carries what appears to be a provision in which it would cut the deputy secretary of defense’s FY23 travel budget by 10% because lawmakers say the department has yet to specify a service or defense agency as the acquisition authority for cruise missile homeland defense. In response to a Politico report on that provision, a spokesperson for Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks tweeted that the a request for input on the issue hadn’t yet reached Hicks’s desk.

Countering The Hypersonic Threat

In its markup, the subcommittee pushes the Defense Department to integrate advanced technology into its hypersonic missile defense programs. Under one provision, the panel would “encourage” the defense secretary to use the Defense Innovation Unit or Small Business Innovation Research funds to acquire commercial or non-developmental radar upgrades to detect and track low-flying, short-, medium-, and long-range hypersonic weapons or cruise missile threats.

Another provision would require the MDA director to provide a report by year’s end on how artificial intelligence could be used to decrease response time in detecting hypersonic missiles across all phases of flight, and how AI can enhance tracking and targeting those missiles. In general, the subcommittee wants more information about what investments are needed in sensor architectures to detect and track hypersonic and cruise missiles.

The committee notes that the US military has “limited capability” to defend against hypersonics through the sea-based component of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, stationed on the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ticonderoga-class cruisers.

“The committee notes that while these missile defense systems are highly capable, technological advancements in hypersonic missiles present challenges to their capability,” the committee notes.

Concerns Over Guam, Lessons From Ukraine

In one geographically specific area, the markup aims to beef up the defense of Guam against missile threats. The draft bill directs the Defense Department to submit a report analyzing the integrated air and missile defense architecture for the defense of the American territory and requires a report on the missile defense architecture of US Indo-Pacific Command.

The committee wants the report to include details on how existing ground-based interceptor sites, including a potential site at Fort Drum, New York, could be used for future advanced missile interceptor capabilities and situational awareness for Northern Command.

The conflict in Ukraine also made its mark in the draft legislation, as the committee directs the Army to assess the “validity” of its current Patriot Air and Missile Defense batteries. The draft bill language says that Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has “highlighted the importance” of lower-tier air and missile defense in Europe. Under the legislation, the Army would be required to submit a report assessing and validating its current battery and interceptor objectives.

“It is the sense of Congress that given the evolving cruise- and ballistic-missile threat from rogue nations and near- peer adversaries, particularly in regional scenarios, the Secretary of the Army should reassess the current battery and interceptor acquisition objectives for the Patriot air and missile defense system to determine if 16 batteries and 3,376 Patriot advanced capability-3 missile segment enhancement missiles are still valid,” the language states.

The Army plans to replace Patriot systems with its Lower-Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor (LTAMDS) and Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS), but those two programs won’t be fielded together for over a decade, even if they remain on schedule. Lawmakers want to ensure that the Army continues to modernize the Patriots until the fielding of IBCS and LTAMDS is complete.

The language would require the Army secretary to brief Congress on obsolescence needs within the Patriot program, including a summary of all funded and unfunded obsolescence requirements in the future years, as well as an analysis of which unfunded requirements are needed to mitigate risk if air defense operations tempo increase 10 percent and 25 percent.

“It is critical that the Army prioritize the need to address pressing obsolescence challenges in order to ensure Patriot’s ability to continue serving as a critical enabler to the Army’s integrated air and missile defense strategy throughout the fielding of IBCS and LTAMDS,” the direct report language states.





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