Many Threats Yield Many Programs

kpeters@govexec.com

The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization is pursuing both land- and sea-based systems to effectively counter missile threats both overseas and to the continental United States. "The threat is so varied, and the mission demands so complex, that we do not currently have the technology to allow us to develop a single weapon system that can meet all of the demanding and complex requirements," says Air Force Lt. Gen. Lester Lyles, director of BMDO.

The national missile defense program comprises a system of space- and ground-based sensors, satellites and ground-based radars and interceptors that are meant to provide limited protection to the United States. In addition, the Pentagon is developing the following theater defense systems to protect troops and personnel on the battlefield.

PAC-3. The Patriot PAC-3 system is an upgraded version of the Patriot missile defense system deployed during the Persian Gulf War. The missile seeks out and destroys incoming missiles in the lower tier of the earth's atmosphere. It is the most mature of the theater missile defense programs and is in the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the acquisition process. The system is to be fielded to the first Army unit sometime next year.

Navy Area Defense. This lower-tier system builds on the existing AEGIS/Standard Missile infrastructure. The ship-based system is designed to protect naval assets and nearby land-based assets.

Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). This is the only lower-tier system under consideration that can protect ground forces against short-range tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. The United States, Germany and Italy have shared the costs of developing MEADS. Congress canceled funding for the program in 1999, although Defense Secretary William Cohen could decide to continue the program with additional missile defense funds approved by Congress in an omnibus spending bill in October. Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). This system is intended to intercept longer-range theater-class ballistic missiles at high altitudes and further downrange from the intended target. This will allow more time for multiple-shot opportunities to intercept missiles and destroy them before they can harm ground troops.

Navy Theater Wide. This program builds on the Navy Area Defense system to intercept missiles in space. BMDO is also working with the Navy to modify the AEGIS Weapon System to support the expanded requirements for the longer-range interceptor.

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