Protecting the homeland is regularly identified as the top priority of U.S. missile defense efforts. This mission is dependent upon a global network of sensors and interceptors, including the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD. The formal prioritization of homeland missile defense, however, has not always been reflected in the budget.
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Today’s Ground-based interceptors, or GBIs, were originally designed in the 1990s and to some extent still use technology from that era. Today’s system is able to defend the nation from certain long range ballistic missile threats, such as from North Korea. As missile threats grow, however, today’s defenses could be outmatched, unless steps are taken to improve reliability and capacity.
By the end of 2017, only 44 interceptors will be deployed between Alaska and California. The site at Fort Greely, Alaska was designed to hold up to 100 interceptors.
But reliability and capability are equally important as numbers. The Missile Defense Agency is currently developing the Redesigned Kill Vehicle, drawing upon advances from other recent missile defense programs. Space-based sensors and improvements for tracking and discrimination will also help.
As the ballistic missile defense architecture continues to evolve, the United States should also consider other solutions, such as directed energy, transportable GBIs, or an underlay of other interceptors for key areas.
Entirely new types of threats to the homeland are also emerging, including cruise missiles and boost glide vehicles, which require different solutions.
None of this is easy, but continued focus will be necessary to outpace these threats.