The Emerging Shield

Dec. 1, 2002

Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, USAF, is director of the Missile Defense Agency, the DOD organization that oversees all ballistic and cruise missile defense efforts. On Oct. 31, he met with members of the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C. What follows are excerpts from that discussion.

Defense Against Iraqi Missiles

“As of today, … we now have a measurable number of [Patriot-3] missiles that are very capable using hit-to-kill technology to take on that type of threat that the Scud represents. … We still don’t have as much in the magazines as I’d like, [but what] we have is a quantum change from what we had in the Gulf War. …

“We improved the Patriot-2 as well. … It has the glass fragmentation capability against Scuds. So we have that capability.

“And then you add to that the confidence we have in the Arrow system that the Israelis built in close cooperation with us, and we have the Arrow system deployed in Israel to protect that particular country. …

“So, it [today’s situation] is about as different as you can imagine from the time when we had actually zero capability in the Gulf War and we put some emergency capability in. … I think it will be very effective.”

Speeding Up Patriot-3 for War

“We have pretty much completed our original developmental testing regime for Patriot-3 and we entered into some operational testing during this past year, and we had a couple problems. But fundamentally we are completing the development of Patriot-3. … We produced … close to 40 missiles, already in the pipeline.

“So the missile’s capability is pretty well-documented. … There are some things we want to go do and improve on that, but fundamentally, we have a lot of confidence that Patriot will perform the mission of missile defense for the regime it was designed for. … We’ve got to buy them as rapidly as we can afford to buy them.”

Future of the Airborne Laser

“This is crunch time for the ABL. … All the hardware is getting delivered, and when hardware gets delivered, there are all of the inevitable problems [with] things not working as expected. I think over the next year, we’ll learn an awful lot about the ABL program and its schedule. …

“We are still assessing–or, at least, I am–the third quarter calendar year ’04 as being the [first missile] shootdown time frame. I don’t think we can pin that down specifically with as much certainty as I’d like until we get through next spring with the efforts at putting the airplane together at Edwards [AFB, Calif.].”

Issues Concerning ABL Development

“Stuffing all those things in the back end of the airplane causes a weight problem. Basically, the problem we have with the Airborne Laser is not that it is carrying too much stuff, but in one part of the airplane, it has too much weight. Just in one part of it … in the back end, where the laser module is. … I am confident we will eventually figure out how to solve that problem.”

Critical ABL Milestones Coming Up

“This spring is the ‘first light’–that is, when we hook up all the [ABL] modules and the plumbing and the optics in the integration airframe we have on the ground, and then run the full end-to-end test to make sure that the mission equipment works and produces photons. And then once that happens, then we take that configuration and put it in the airplane and start flight-testing.”

Space Based Laser De-emphasized

“Today, in our priority scheme, Space Based Laser is a technology effort–a very promising technology effort, but a technology effort. … We no longer have a program office for Space Based Laser. We are consolidating that effort and we will do technology as aggressively as we can, but it won’t be focused on putting an experiment in space in the near term.”

Key Developments Affecting SBL

“We’ve been at Space Based Laser for a lot of years, for a good reason–because space basing of missile defense capability solves a lot of the geography problem that we face. However, two things have entered into the equation. …

“The first one is that, given the threats we are facing today, the geography problem is difficult, but not as difficult as it was when we were looking at … the old Soviet Union and so forth. Space basing of this capability can be looked at as a later improvement, as opposed to a near-term imperative that we actually do it soon.

“The second issue is that it is hard to do laser technology, in and of itself. …

“As we looked at our priorities and the difficulties of Space Based Laser activity, we decided collectively with the Congress that we should put it at the technology stage.”

Russia, China Response to ABM Treaty Demise

“Our efforts in missile defense today are not directed at the Russians and the Chinese. We are aggressively pursuing the proliferating states that go beyond that. That is a different problem in terms of the history of missile defense, if you will.

“If you ask me, ‘Have things changed in that domain after the treaty?’ My answer is, ‘I see no change.’ In fact, I see that this process is ongoing and unchanged regardless of the treaty. It was going on before the treaty. It is going on after the treaty in terms of proliferation issues.”

The Problem of Rogue States

“The problems that we worry about in missile defense are oriented to those states that are emerging as threats, not in the established traditional ‘enemies’ that we started thinking about once. I think people really need to change their thinking. It is not about the Soviet Union. It is about North Korea. It is about Iran. It is about Iraq. It is about Libya. And other states that might threaten us in the process. The treaty between the old Soviet Union and the Russian Federation and the United States didn’t apply to those guys. Therefore, life has not changed in that sense. … From an ability to deal with that threat, life has changed a lot. [We now have the] ability to use many different types of technologies and things that we were restricted from using.”

US Ground-Based Interceptor Program

“We have been progressing pretty well in our ground-based program against longer-range missiles. We had the flight test a couple weeks ago that was the fourth in a row in terms of success. Now we are at a point where we need to expand the testing envelope of that system, and that is why the test bed in Alaska as well as the greater Pacific area is so important to us to build.

“We are well on our way to building that test bed. With the approval of our budgets in Fiscal Year ’03, it gives us a pretty good start in our management structure to get this thing done by the end of ’04.”

Importance of the Test Bed

“This test bed will provide pretty good indication of how well our systems work from the ground-based side and eventually, hopefully, in the boost [phase]. And it is near term. It will be done at the end of ’04-’05 time frame, depending on how well we can execute the program.”

Usefulness of the Limited Test Bed

“Once the test bed is in place, there will be some amount of capability–because of its location–to handle any threats from North Korea that might arise, but it will be extremely limited.

“Our test bed will have five missiles in it. You can do the math. … Over the past two years, we have convinced ourselves, through some very difficult testing, that the basic technology is going to work. … There will be residual capability, if you want to call it that, or operational capability, just because you have the things where they are and they are hooked up to do testing. So if a decision is made to turn that into an operational system, as limited as it might be, then we will be able to do that. … Along the way, if we get threatened by North Korea, I think the American people would understand that we wouldn’t sit by with five missiles in a hole and do nothing.”

What Kind of Architecture

“We don’t want to postulate a grand design in the year 20XX and spend any amount of time and money building that grand design, even if we have confidence in the technology. That is, I think, the wrong way to approach an unprecedented development in missile defenses.

“A better way to do this is the track we are on right now to make sure we understand what capability we can produce in a given time frame based on our technical progress and then offer to the decision-makers some options as to what to do with that technology from an operational perspective.”

The Problem of Countermeasures

“The countermeasure problem is always going to be with us. It is inherent in any military system and certainly in any defensive system. The midcourse countermeasure problem, however, is different than the boost-phase countermeasure problem, [and] that is different from the terminal-phase countermeasure problem.

“The biggest change that we had in [dealing with] the countermeasure issue is thinking and designing and researching a layered defense system. So if you have more than one layer, in other words, not only just the midcourse layer, you have a boost phase and/or a terminal phase, primarily boost phase, then you have a much more effective system than if you had only one layer. That is just plain math.”

Midcourse Countermeasures

“In terms of the countermeasure issue in the midcourse–which has gotten all the attention over the years–we continue to gain a lot of confidence in our ability to handle the [problem]. … And it will evolve through a lot more testing, some interesting technology, and more capability in our kill vehicles and sensors. We plan to test that. We are entering the stage of walk before we run, but we are walking a lot faster now in the process.”

The Danger Will Persist

“I will state, very clearly, no system is perfect. And you should not expect any missile defense system that we put together to be perfect. But, … if we can save one American city vs. none, that is a better thing for this country.”