MISSILE DEFENSES UNABLE TO STRIKE
The successful test of a long-range anti-ballistic missile interceptor against a target missile on Tuesday was a step forward in bolstering the limited U.S. strategic defenses against the growing threat of missiles from North Korea and Iran. The kill vehicle or last stage of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), as the long-range interceptors are called, struck a simulated intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warhead in space over the northern Pacific near Alaska.
“The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD system and a critical
milestone for this program,” said Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jim Syring. “This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.”
However, military experts say current GMD missile defense system, made up of satellite sensors, targeting sensors and 44 GMDs in California and Alaska, remains vulnerable to a new and emerging threat: high-speed maneuvering strike vehicles.
The entire U.S. missile defense system relies on targeting warheads that travel in predictable flight paths. Once those warheads begin maneuvering, U.S. defenses currently are incapable of hitting them unless the missiles can be attacked shortly after launch.
For diplomatic reasons, successive administrations have avoided all mention of using current missile defenses against missiles fired from China and Russia. The reason is both nations’ missile arsenals could overwhelm the limited defenses.
President Trump, however, has vowed to develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system
and that has raised hopes of expanding the current systems to counter Russian and Chinese missiles, something both nations apparently are anticipating.
China has conducted six tests of a maneuvering high-speed strike vehicle, known as DF-ZF, capable of defeating U.S. missile defenses. Russia is also working on hypersonic missiles — those with speeds up to 7,000 miles per hour and the ability to maneuver to avoid interceptors.
Concerned about the gap, Congress recently required the Missile Defense Agency to set up a special office dedicated to countering hypersonic missile threats.
“North Korea and Iran are increasing their missile technology at an alarming rate even as Russia and China continue developing capabilities designed to exploit the gaps and seams in our missile defense architecture,” said Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican and one of Congress’ most vocal supporters of missile defense, who sponsored the legislation requiring a hypersonic missile defense program.
“Now is the time to invest in missile defense,” he said in response to the recent test.