The U.S. hopes to have a total of 44 GMD interceptors available by the end of the calendar year, up from 36 today, but even with that amount there may not be enough interceptors to take out more than a dozen incoming ICBMs, according to experts. A group of senators last month introduced a bipartisan bill that seeks to bolster homeland missile defense and sharply increase the number of interceptors.
The next test of the GMD interceptor system is scheduled for late 2018, according to the Missile Defense Agency. Boeing is the prime contractor on the GMD program.
The U.S. missile agency has received more than $120 billion since 2002 on the GMD missile defense system and it plans to spend an additional $37 billion through 2021 to further develop capabilities, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last month.
Meantime, Russia and China also are concerned with the THAAD anti-ballistic missile systems deployed in South Korea. THAAD, a system manufactured by Lockheed Martin, stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense.
The controversial THAAD system is a mobile, ground-based system deployed about 130 miles south of Seoul, South Korea, to defeat North Korean missiles. However, its powerful radar gives the U.S. the ability to peer deep into both China and Russia and monitor military activities.
Analysts suggest one way Russia could respond to the U.S. anti-missile technology is by increasing its cyberweapons targeting missile defense systems as well as pushing more space-based anti-missile solutions. Russia also could increase the number of fake missiles it has coming down on targets so more interceptors go to the wrong missile.
“There are ways to trick the computer systems to think that there’s a lot more missiles coming down on a target,” said Kazianis. “The challenge here is that there’s so many different ways to literally fake out the interceptor system.”
At present, the U.S. is considered ahead of Russia and China in developing space-based sensors and interceptor technology. Infrared sensors already are on satellites to detect missiles and the Pentagon is expanding efforts to develop a network of additional sensors in space and to experiment with kill capabilities from space.
Laser weapons also show promise as part of a missile defense system. They have already been tested in manned aircraft and now development is underway in drones.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s “long-term goal is to deploy lasers on high-altitude, long-endurance UAV platforms to destroy ICBMs in the boost phase at long standoff ranges,” according to spokesman Chris Johnson.
Several challenges remain, though, including overcoming the huge power requirements of laser weapons and the scale necessary to put the weapon technology on unmanned vehicles. General Atomics is working on a high-energy laser system for its UAVs that could be used for a range of uses, including missile defense as well as offensive capabilities.
“The challenge there is getting the laser powerful enough while also to be light enough to fit on the back of a UAV,” said Thomas Karako, a senior fellow at the International Security Program and director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank.
That said, Karako indicated that the laser-based UAV weapon would only be useful for the boost phase of a ballistic missile when it’s most vulnerable and rising. The laser probably wouldn’t be reliable to kill the missile warhead on its re-entry since at that phase it is designed to withstand intense heat.