The United States has assembled an arsenal of acronyms to counter advances in diverse missile technologies that make these often-mobile, ever-evolving, and ubiquitous weapons systems relatively inexpensive to attack with but increasingly costly to defend.
Since October, U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers in the Red and Aden seas have knocked down numerous drones and at least four Quds-2 cruise ballistic missiles targeting Israel and commercial ships launched by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, including twice since Dec. 3.
The Navy’s anti-missile missile systems work well in tracking and zapping an array of varied threats from the skies, Pentagon officials told the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee during a Dec. 7 hearing. However, the anti-missile systems are “on the wrong side of the cost equation,” according to Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.).
“At the end of the day, it is a simple numbers game. Those [Navy] interceptors have a per-unit cost of $2 billion, more than double the cost of the [Quds] cruise missiles they shot down.”
While a cost-benefit analysis in saved lives is incalculable, Army Brig. Gen. Clair Gill, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff Regional Operations and Force Management Directorate, says the more sophisticated that strike missile systems get, the more costly that counter-measures become.
“Missile-related threats have rapidly expanded in recent years,” he said. “Adversary missile systems are showing more maneuver capability as well as greater survivability, reliability, accuracy, and lethality.”
Mr. Moulton said there needs to be a way to get a better missile defense bang for the Pentagon’s buck.
“This is why we must look at next-generation capabilities—capabilities that can flip the cost paradigm, such as directed energy, cyber, and other innovative solutions that are not one-for-one point defenses,” he said. “Only then will we have a decent chance of stopping our adversaries from relying so heavily on missile technology.”
The 75-minute hearing, the second before the panel since April that was exclusively dedicated to missile defenses, delved deeply into “regional tactical-level” anti-missile systems and programs.
The discussion was a blur of acronyms within acronyms related to the MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM), the terminal high altitude area defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic batteries, and the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) system.
These and other anti-missile defense systems are “in high demand with limited inventory,” the Pentagon stated, which is alarming because they are key to homeland defense and deployed “globally to support allied and partner nations” as part of an integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) network.
Anti-missile defense systems and strike—or fires—attack missile systems are featured prominently in the proposed $886.3 billion fiscal 2024 defense budget, or National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The House and Senate have each approved their versions of the NDAA but haven’t reconciled differences between the chambers—mostly related to House-engineered “culture war” amendments—and presented a final plan for President Joe Biden to sign. That may not happen until early February.
The proposed defense budget earmarks $30 billion for missile defense and development of a “next generation interceptor for ground-based midcourse defense,” $17.3 billion to purchase tactical missiles, $5 billion for “proliferated resilient missile warning/missile tracking architectures,“ $4.7 billion for hypersonic-related research—including procurement of 24 hypersonic missiles and $225 million to “accelerate a glide-phase interceptor against hypersonic missile threats”—and $1.5 billion for Guam’s anti-missile defense.
InvestmentsThe stalled NDAA includes investments in regional Patriot missile defense networks, the development of “a lower-tier air and missile defense sensor,” additional short-range air defense battalions, and the development of the eighth THAAD battery.
The defense budget also increases the Department of Defense’s (DOD) capacities for multi-year procurement with defense contractors to develop and produce advanced drones, precision missiles, high-energy lasers, and a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, to construct an East Coast missile defense site, and to accelerate deployment of advanced radars to track missiles.
Also waiting to advance is the Biden administration’s proposed $106 billion supplemental spending package that includes additional funding for Ukraine in resisting Russia’s invasion, for Israel in its war against Hamas, and for border security. The Senate has advanced its version, without money for Ukraine, but the House has yet to put it on the floor for a vote.
The supplemental spending package includes, among other proposed appropriations, $50 billion to boost the nation’s defense industrial base and $755 million to increase Patriot missile production from 550 to 650 annually.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Missile Defense Policy John Hill told the panel that adopting the defense budget and supplemental package—with Ukraine funding restored—rather than operating under a continuing resolution is essential to keep apace of growing missile threats and enhance IAMD networking with allies.
“Operating under continuing resolutions hamstrings the [DOD’s] people and programs and undermines both our national security and competitiveness,” he said. “Further passing supplemental funding can ultimately strengthen our national security, deter our adversaries, meet our commitments to allies and partners, and ensure Israel and Ukraine have the military capabilities they need to succeed.”
Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chair Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said unfolding events in Israel and the Red Sea confirm that “additional capacity is necessary” in anti-missile systems and underscores the near-term urgency in how the DOD “manages these scarce assets.”
“Missile defense capabilities are becoming increasingly important on the modern battlefield,“ he said. ”However, demand for these systems continues to outpace supply.”