The Pentagon is looking into space-based laser weapons technology since the ultimate solution to defeat a missile threat in their flight phase, but the Defense Department is not yet at the point where it has determined the perfect solution.
“Waiting until an adversary is at mid-course phase of flight is giving the adversary a no cost pass to file for,” Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, told reporters during a media round-table on the Space and Missile Defense Symposium.
Advocating to defeat missile threats within their earliest phase of flight, he explained: “Until we’ve studied the situation, I don’t know what the best long-term option would be. The best solution could be with directed energy.
“It’s too soon to pick a victory,” Griffin said.
But the Missile Defense Agency and the Pentagon are already contemplating the best way to accomplish a boost-phase missile defeat, which has become critical now that Congress, in its fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act signed into law August 14, 2018, is requiring the Defense Department to analyze and formulate a basic plan to create a boost-phase missile defense capability the coming year.
The MDA needs to create a feasibility study on using UAVs and kinetic interceptors right at the end of 2021.
“We have a large number of people supporting the idea of an F-15 or F-35 or, you decide on your aircraft platform, orbiting in a holding pattern off of the coast of certain adversaries gives you, carrying an improved air-to-air missile, would give you a boost phase intercept capability,” Griffin said.
The undersecretary said he agreed it’s possible, but added: “I would move from there and say an unmanned aerial vehicle orbiting possibly with a higher altitude might give you a greater portion of a cost-effective solution, so you might consider making a new air-to-air capability to augment that.”
That could mean a brand new munition to get following your task, Griffin said, noting that “a number of contractors have come toward me already and said: ‘If we all do something like that with a fresh munition, you may get a fairly cost-effective boost-phase capability against limited threats,’ and I believe that to be true.”
But in the long run, it feels right that will put boost-phase interceptors in space, according to Griffin.
“If you deploy a space-based interceptor constellation, which is something we’ve studied more than thirty years, I think the effectiveness is definite, it’s not technically hard to do,” he was quoted saying. But “it does represent a substantial policy shift. It’s a brand new cost not presently within the budget, but we can get it done, yeah, easy problem.”
A boost-phase intercept utilizing a directed-energy weapon “has been this really difficult and highly complex goal we’ve been after to get a amount of years,” Joseph Keelon, the Missile Defense Agency’s acting program executive for advanced technology, said at the symposium.
The MDA’s previous airborne laser program was with a Boeing 747 commercial airliner, he noted. “We did shoot a missile with a laser it can be done.”
Congress offers funding and support to pursue directed-energy development inside the MDA, Keelon said, specifically to guide an airborne lower-power laser demonstrator and laser scaling which will resulted in development of directed-energy weapons for missile defense.
While the MDA did not request any funding in FY19 for laser scaling to get a boost-phase intercept capability, Congress is authorizing $50 million to push your time and effort forward. The effort will permit the continuation of research and growth and development of these separate laser-scaling efforts, having a goal of demonstrating a 500-kilowatt laser by 2021 along with a “best-of-breed’ 1-megawatt laser capability by 2023.
There are “a great deal of studies, you will find people who say we shouldn’t do that,” Keelon said. “I want to tell you why those guys are wrong. Maybe they’re suitable for the 1st missile, but they’re absolutely dead wrong to the second missile, for your fourth missile, the 16th and the 350th missile that comes on the U.S.”
Keelon also advocated for your standby time with the Joint Strike Fighter or another aircraft to shoot down missiles in boost phase. “We need all of our combat aircraft and all of our combat systems in order to shoot these products down inside the boost phase in the nasty fight whenever we arrive,” he was quoted saying. “Just an idea.”
While he is unsure whether an F-35 can shoot down a missile “right now,” Keelon did repeat the jets “need so that you can make it happen, in order that is what we need to be able to assist the Air Force with.”