CBRN Assessment

Trump’s Missile Defense Review holds status quo, but will study space-based interceptors

17 January 2019

An artist's rendition of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense’s (GMD's) Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle that is designed to collide with and destroy nuclear warheads in outer space. Source: Raytheon

Key Points

  • The Trump adminstration released its long-awaited Missile Defense Review
  • The Pentagon will consider using the F-35 to aid or conduct intercepts

The Trump administration on 17 January unveiled its long-delayed Missile Defense Review (MDR), which said the Pentagon will study space-based interceptor technology, consider using Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) to aid or conduct intercepts, and perhaps operationalise an Aegis Ashore interceptor test site on Hawaii.

The review contained few surprises and appeared to underscore the Pentagon's interest in ongoing efforts, such as fielding more space-based sensors and potentially using ship-based Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptors to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). A SM-3 Block IIA is to be tested against an ICBM-class target in 2020.

Perhaps most notably, however, the report said the Pentagon would "study development and fielding of a space-based missile intercept layer capable of boost-phase defense" and provide a report within six months. That study is to "identify the most promising technologies, and estimated schedule, cost, and personnel requirements, for a possible space-based defensive layer that achieves an early operational capability for boost-phase defense".

In May 2017 then-secretary of defence Jim Mattis directed the department to begin its Ballistic Missile Defense Review, later re-named the MDR, to address not just ballistic missiles but also cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons.

Its result, as expected, seeks an increased focus on regional defences against cruise missiles and hypersonic vehicles. Programmes to select such technologies had emerged in the fiscal year 2019 (FY 2019) Pentagon budget request. The MDR said the head of US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) would now lead "an assessment of the command and control capabilities and concepts of operation needed to provide early warning and attack assessment for advanced ballistic missile, cruise missile, and [hypersonic glide vehicle] HGV threats" that is to be delivered within nine months.

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