Missile Defense Agency head spells out threats, priorities

The head of the Missile Defense Agency said that the U.S. could defend against current ballistic missile threats but increased capabilities are necessary so the Pentagon can continue to address emerging threats.

“The enemy continues to test at a very rapid pace; they continue to learn, and we should all be very cognizant of that,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves said at the ninth annual McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs conference in Washington, D.C.

“Within the Missile Defense Agency, the first priority we’ve got is to continue focusing on increasing system reliability and warfighting confidence,” he continued.

Greaves said the MDA’s priorities are boosting engagement capacity and defeating future threats.

“We absolutely believe that the ballistic missile defense system meets today’s threat but we need additional capability to stay ahead of the evolving threat,” he said.

Greaves also noted that North Korea is “not afraid to fail” when it comes to missile tests because failures often provide the country’s scientists with a trove of useful data.

“My only hope is that they’re not learning as much about failure as we are learning when we fail, because I will tell you that there’s a tremendous amount of learning that goes on when we fail,” he said.

Greaves added that soon the MDA hopes to deploy space-based sensors that will allow the U.S. to be alerted faster to incoming missile threats and to track them better and engage them more accurately.

“It all boils down to the need to have birth-to-death custody of the threat as it’s coming your way,” he said, adding that the proliferation of ballistic missiles and BM technologies is increasing potential adversaries A2/AD capabilities. [source]

Analysis: U.S. missile defenses may have suffered a serious setback if in fact Russia can field a hypersonic weapon that is capable of evading current defensive systems, as President Vladimir Putin recently boasted. More to that point, China has successfully tested a hypersonic glide vehicle; the U.S. lags behind.

Hypersonic systems are said to be game-changers in terms of attack capability; it would be infinitely more difficult to hit a hypersonic weapon with a non-hypersonic interceptor. If nothing else, hypersonic systems may spur the U.S. to invest more heavily in laser defense systems which would have much faster intercept capability at a fraction of the cost.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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