Air and Missile Defense Integration Needed Now…More Than Ever

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“Success no longer goes to the country that develops a new technology first, but rather to the one that better integrates it and adapts its way of fighting…Cultivating a lethal, agile force requires more than just new technologies and posture changes; it depends on the ability of our warfighters and the Department workforce to integrate new capabilities and adapt warfighting approaches. -SECDEF Mattis; 2018 National Military Strategy

The Threat

It has never been more important to integrate our current and future air and missile defense capabilities, especially considering the current global threat environment.  Potential adversaries have carefully observed U.S. successes in recent conflicts and seek to exploit perceived gaps and vulnerabilities.  Given the cost of fielding large land, air, and maritime formations, many are turning to relatively cheaper and “difficult to defend against”

Nov. 4, 2017. Iran on Saturday displayed a surface-to-surface missile as part of events marking the anniversary of the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis amid uncertainty about its nuclear deal with world powers. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

 technologies like ballistic missile and cyber capabilities.  According to recent testimony by Defense Department officials, global trends indicate ballistic and cruise missiles are becoming more capable due to the proliferation of advanced technologies and countermeasures…resulting in systems with global reach, increasing speed, increasing survivability, and greater accuracy.  In fact, many countries are developing ground, sea, and air-launched cruise missiles, with nearly 30 countries also possessing ballistic missile capabilities.  In addition, threat actors are leveraging commercially available unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to further complicate the air and missile defense environment.  According to Secretary Mattis, “…the 2019 budget funds enhancements to U.S. missile defense capabilities to defend the homeland, our deployed forces, allies, and partners against an increasingly complex ballistic missile threat. In accordance with the soon-to-be-released 2018 Missile Defense Review, this budget requests continued robust support for missile defense capacity and capability to keep pace with advancing threats”.

Importance of integration

Although the importance of integration has often been discussed, its impact on missile defense operations cannot be overstated.  As discussed above, the threat has not taken a tactical pause, but continues to develop improved air and missile capabilities.  With this in mind, one of the overarching attributes of a truly integrated system is the ability to seamlessly process data from multiple sensors and link to the most capable kinetic, and in the future, non-kinetic capabilities.  This capability is especially critical given the myriad threats that are expected to expand in complexity and numbers. 

Integration also provides redundancy and increased opportunities for engagement, while reducing the impact of system gaps and vulnerabilities (e.g., lack of 360-degree coverage, single points of failure, etc.).  Historically, there have always been more assets to defend…than available Air and Missile Defense (AMD) systems.  It’s fair to say there will never be enough AMD systems to protect all assets but maximizing existing, and future capabilities will significantly expand our defended asset footprint and shot opportunities. 

It is also important to recognize integration’s impact on potential changes to our current shot doctrine…or engagement procedures.  In many cases, decisions regarding shot doctrine are made at the highest levels due to its force protection implications, especially when dealing with existential threats.  Integrating C2 nodes,

Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Complex Romania

sensors, and weapons in real time, without errors, fully enables a shoot-assess-shoot shot doctrine—where crews employ one interceptor per threat and then only employ a second when the first is unsuccessful.  Therefore, integration expands our inventory and capabilities by reducing the number of interceptors required to prosecute a given threat. 

No one disputes the fact that AMD systems are inherently expensive.  Currently, AMD expenditures represent the fourth most costly portfolio in the Army’s budget.  In fact, integration actually reduces the cost-per-intercept by optimizing capabilities while lessening the impact of system limitations on the mission.  Finally, no discussion on the importance of integration would be complete without discussing cost-sharing opportunities.  The ability to share the resource burden among services and our allies is significant, especially given the cost of technology and competing claimants for these limited resources.  Foreign military sales play an important role in upgrading current capabilities while investing in future technologies.  Bottom line: the ability to integrate compatible AMD systems fielded by the U.S. and its allies significantly enhance both our readiness and U.S. competitiveness abroad.

Current Efforts

For many years, U.S. AMD forces have been deployed throughout the world. Currently, U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces operate several U.S.- made BMD platforms to defend against short and medium-range North Korean missiles.  South Korea is also scheduled to deploy its own short-range BMD system by the early 2020s.  Meanwhile, the Japanese have invested in their own integrated BMD system and are currently partnering with the U.S. on the Standard Missile 3 program.  Japan also operates four Aegis BMD ships with plans to build four additional ships and two Aegis Ashore sites by the early 2020s.  As our allies continue to improve their BMD capability, it’s imperative we integrate Command and Control (C2), sensors and weapons to share information and more importantly, to ensure system compatibility.

Turning to the other side of the world, the U.S. has a long and well-established history of working with allies throughout Europe and the Middle East on ballistic missile challenges.  In fact, many of our partners have purchased, or are considering purchasing additional U.S. AMD systems.  That said, cyber-protection, the releasability of data, and operating standards continue to present some of the most challenging impediments to full integration.  The use of tabletop exercises can serve as an important tool to address these issues cost-effectively by rigorously testing and integrating various sensors, weapons, and C2 systems in simulated environments.

“Our approach to IAMD must be inclusive with our NATO allies and key partners as we face a growing ballistic missile threat from regional adversaries.  We need to look at our inter-operability with our allies because we can’t do this in Europe correctly without doing it together.” -GEN Curtis Scaparrotti in testimony before the House Arms Services Committee, February 2018                   

To address the challenges of integration and interoperability, many partner nations have undertaken efforts to optimize their current AMD systems.  Like the U.S., NATO has publicly stated the objective of ensuring systems are “interoperable, share the same command and control open architecture, and achieve the “any sensor, any shooter” capability.  The vision of a fully integrated AMD system with a common picture shared among U.S. and partner nation sensors and shooters is clearly a warfighter’s need.

The U.S. Army is currently working with industry to develop an Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) that provides an “any sensor, best shooter capability,” a single integrated air picture, and addresses air and missile threats coming from any direction.  Recent efforts have successfully identified, tracked, and destroyed cruise missile surrogates using sensors and interceptors from various systems.  The Army anticipates fielding an initial operating capability (IOC) by FY 2022.  In fact, Poland recently signed a letter of acceptance to acquire IBCS to integrate its current and future AMD systems.  IBCS is moving in the right direction and is the equivalent of adding another arrow to the warfighter’s quiver.

Turning to the Navy, the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) provides a sensor network with integrated fire control to significantly improve air and missile defense capabilities.  By combining data from multiple air search sensors, CEC can establish a single, real-time, composite track picture, greatly enhancing fleet air defense by making jamming more difficult and allocating defensive missiles on a battle group basis. CEC is also moving in the right direction to meet the warfighter’s need.

Additionally, the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) system currently play an important role in the pursuit of integration and interoperability efforts. Recently, MDA and the Services demonstrated interoperability between the THAAD and PATRIOT weapons systems and a “layered defense” design by incorporating Aegis, THAAD, and Patriot capabilities.

Way ahead and recommendations

All would agree missile defense is a complex, expensive, evolving enterprise—clearly required to protect our Homeland, our deployed military forces, and our Allies.  That said, the technology challenges involved in the integration of disparate systems are not insurmountable.  In many cases, policy constraints, releasability standards, and engagement guidelines remain the most vexing issues, requiring additional analysis and discussion.  As Duane Neal accurately states in his recent article, Succeeding at Integrated Air and Missile Defense, “Deliberate analysis which allows the IAMD community of interest to identify gaps, discuss solutions, and communicate those needs to a variety of inter-, intra- and non-government entities advance a holistic effort for mitigating the risk from air and missile threats”.

  1. Open Architecture. From a technology standpoint, a clear understanding and enforcement of open-architecture standards and protocols are tantamount to achieving full integration of our missile defense platforms. History is replete with examples of weapons systems developed in isolation or “stove-pipes” that fail to fully exploit their potential to enhance missile defense operations.  The Army’s recent decision to acquire IBCS is an important step to address this issue while allowing the government to own and control the architecture.  Bottom line: The Defense Department, in coordination with industry and other key stakeholders, plays an essential role in ensuring requirements are accurately conveyed and
  1. Secure Networks. Protected network architectures provide the foundation for air and missile defense integration both now and in the future. Voice and data networks play an integral role in our current missile defense operations and support critical command, control and intelligence (C31) tasks. The ability to integrate sensors and interceptors from multiple platforms provides significant opportunities to enhance missile defense operations globally.  That said, cyber vulnerabilities are real and growing daily.  To safeguard our ballistic missile defense architecture, MDA and others are establishing procedures to 1) know when penetrations occur, 2) isolate the penetration, 3) take corrective action, and 4) build redundancy and resiliency to sustain operations.
  1. Training Is Critical. The importance of training readiness cannot be overstated. In many cases, less capable systems operated by trained crews are often more effective than technologically advanced systems operated by less proficient crews.  In fact, minimally trained crews rarely utilize the full capabilities of our weapons platforms.  Training readiness and crew proficiency are especially important as we integrate systems across services and among allies.  Common terminology, engagement displays, and a common operating picture enhance the crew’s ability to engage a threat with any sensor, best shooter.  Establishing and adhering to training standards are key to ensuring standardization and the necessary competence in pursuit of integration across the AMD community.
  1. Warfighter’s Requirements. Closely related to training readiness is the need to listen to the warfighter about their requirements. The use of reoccurring joint and combined exercises operations that integrate policy discussions with realistic, scenario-driven missile defense operations help to address these critical needs.  It is also important to recognize the important role system design engineers play in conducting these training venues and capturing warfighter concerns.  One example is MDA’s Ballistic Missile Defense System Wargame (BMDSWG) series.  Another possible example would be to merge USSTRATCOM’s Nimble Titan series with USCENTCOM’s air and missile defense exercise (AMDEX) construct.
  1. Programs of Record. In testimony before Congress, Service Chiefs have frequently expressed their frustration with our current acquisition process.  In many cases, programs of record are executed in an inefficient and costly manner, leading to delays in getting much-needed capabilities into the hands of warfighters.  Regarding air and missile defense, IBCS serves as an example where selected components could be fielded in the Pacific today, dramatically improving our AMD posture while saving resources on short-term and temporary fixes.  

In conclusion, the integration of missile defense system C2, sensors, and weapons is not a question of if, but when and to what degree.  From maximizing system capabilities while reducing the impact of system limitations to expanding defended asset footprints, to reducing the cost per intercept, the benefits of integration are numerous and needed now more than ever before.  No country can adequately address all of the global threats given the high demand and low density of our current AMD resources and their associated costs.  Bottom line: we’re all in this together and fully integrating our air and missile defense assets as quickly as possible gives us the best chance at providing the necessary protection today and in the future.


Dave Mann, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, retired is the former Commanding General, Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command and Commander, JFCC-Integrated Missile Defense.  With over 35 years’ experience in Air and Missile Defense, including Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn, Dave is a recognized expert on development, testing, integration and employment of DOD’s missile defense capabilities.  Dave is currently serving as the Principal with Space, Air and Missile Defense Consulting, LLC.

Dick “Weasel” Gallagher, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy retired, is the former U.S. Military Representative to NATO, Deputy Commander U.S. European Command and has commanded the Navy Fighter Weapons School TOPGUN, USS Inchon and USS John C. Stennis.  Weasel served 36 years in the Navy spanning Operations Desert Shield & Desert Storm to NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya and has flown the F-4, F-14, FA-18 and F-16N.  He is currently a Stellar Solutions, Inc Advisor and is associated with other aspects of the Defense enterprise.

Larry “Snake” Wells, Major General, U.S. Air Force retired, is the former Commander, Ninth Air Force and Commander, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing (undisclosed location) and served as Chief of Staff, U.S. Forces Korea and United Nations Command.  Larry has 35 years of experience in fighter, reconnaissance and cyber operations and flew in Operations Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.  He has flown the F-16, U-2, RQ-4 and KC-10 and is currently Senior Director, Cyberspace Innovations for Stellar Solutions, Inc. 



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