TCS Daily

Missile Defense Test a Hit for Midcourse Intercept Technologies

By William Schneider - July 18, 2001 12:00 AM

Defense Central reviewed the impact of July 14's successful missile defense test over the Pacific Ocean with E-Ring Contributor William Schneider. Schneider, the chairman of DoD's Defense Science Board, says the positive test results represent a shift from a procurement "to an R&D-focused program."

Defense Central: What is the significance of last weekend's successful antimissile system test?

William Schneider: There's a couple of areas of significance. First, on its own merits, it's a demonstration of the efficacy of the concept being proposed for use in the interception of ballistic missile warheads during the so-called midcourse portion of their trajectory. This concept, while it has been demonstrated in laboratories and simulations, has not been successfully demonstrated on this scale.

The second part of the significance of this test is that it represents a new approach to the development of missile defenses, where the new administration is likely to propose missile defense experiments over a wide range of alternative technologies to try and develop intercept technologies that will address each phase of the ballistic missile's trajectory. This reflects a conversion of the program from a procurement program, which was where it was headed in the Clinton administration, to an R&D-focused program, where the technologies will be developed, tested, and subjected to test deployment to produce rudimentary capability. This rudimentary capability will then serve as the basis for subsequent decisions on what to move into full-scale procurement later on.

Defense Central: At the cost of $100 million per test, won't this type of R&D effort break the bank?

Schneider: This is only one kind of experiment - and a relatively expensive one. The tendency will be to conduct a larger number of smaller-scale experiments that will be aimed at developing the specific constituent technologies and to test them. Also, one of the tasks the administration is moving towards is to develop lower-cost test technologies, which has been done in other parts of the defense R&D establishment.

Defense Central: Once this R&D is complete, will the transition from testing to deployment be difficult?

Schneider: No, in fact, it tends to reflect the classical approach that was taken to the deployment of advanced technologies in the past.

If you go back to the '50s, for example, when we had a very rapid pace of development of military aircraft, the concept was to deploy the advanced aircraft, say an A model, as soon as the test program revealed that the core requirements were being met. This A model deployment may have been extended for a relatively small production run to allow operators to become familiar with the product, identify effective ways to support it, and, more importantly, identify things that needed to be improved. That led to a B model, which was subsequently deployed, and even C and D models.

If you look at the B-52, we're up to the H model now. That was an aircraft that was designed in the late '40s and deployed in a similar pattern. I think the transition will be easier.

Defense Central: Is it realistic to expect ballistic missile defense technologies to protect our allies and service members overseas, as well as our homeland?

Schneider: The same concept that will be used to protect our own territory is what would be applied to protecting our allies.

We have for a number of years been developing so-called theater missile defense systems that are able to engage primarily short- or medium-range missiles of the type that would threaten our deployed forces abroad. These technologies are very suitable for many of our allies who face similar threats.

There are some allies who may face threats from longer-range systems, for example, Japan or some of our allies in Western Europe. Therefore, the systems that they seek may look more like the American system for protecting our own territory than the theater systems that are now well advanced and are likely to be deployed with the forces relatively soon.


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