The Buzz

America Has Big Plans to Defend Itself from Nuclear ICBMs (Think North Korea)

Steve Nicholls, Director of Advanced Air & Missile Defense Systems for Raytheon, told Scout Warrior last year that the MOKV is being developed to provide the MDA with “a key capability for its Ballistic Missile Defense System - to discriminate lethal objects from countermeasures and debris. The kill vehicle, launched from the ground-based interceptor extends the ground-based discrimination capability with onboard sensors and processing to ensure the real threat is eliminated.”

The Missile Defense Agency's first-ever successful intercept of an ICBM target using a Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, using the kinetic force of an Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) to destroy the target, is paving the way toward advanced future kill vehicles able to discern and attack multiple approaching threats, industry and Pentagon officials said.

During the test, an ICBM-class target was launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a Missile Defense Agency statement said. 

"Multiple sensors provided target acquisition and tracking data to the Command, Control, Battle Management and Communication (C2BMC) system," the statement added. 

The intercept, taking place over the Pacific Ocean, used X-band radar to track the target for using a fire control solution to destroy the ICBM.

All of this is seen by developers as a crucial step toward a new future system, called Multi-Object Kill Vehicle, or MOKV. It is designed to release from a Ground Based Interceptor and destroy approaching Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles, or ICBMs -- and also take out decoys traveling alongside the incoming missile threat.

Development of the MOVK is intended to evolve from existing tests with the EKV, however industry and Pentagon developers do not want to rush the system in order to ensure it is well suited to destroy emerging threats anticipated five, ten or more years from now, said Norm Montano, Raytheon EKV Program Director. 

"The threat is evolving. North Korea is frequently testing. You can't underestimate the learning that they are doing. We don't want to rush MOKV. We want to get there and get there right," Montano said. "If we move too fast we might not get all the learning that we need."

Decoys or countermeasures are missile-like structures, objects or technologies designed to throw off or confuse the targeting and guidance systems of an approaching interceptor in order to increase the probability that the actual missile can travel through to its target.

If the seeker or guidance systems of a “kill vehicle” technology on a Ground Base Interceptor, or GBI, cannot discern an actual nuclear-armed ICBM from a decoy – the dangerous missile is more likely to pass through and avoid being destroyed.  MOKV is being developed to address this threat scenario.

"We will develop and test MOKV command and control strategies in both digital and hardware-in-the-loop venues that will prove we can manage the engagements of many kill vehicles on many targets from a single interceptor. We will also invest in the communication architectures and guidance technology that support this game-changing approach,” a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, told Scout Warrior.  

The Missile Defense Agency has awarded MOKV development deals to Boeing, Lockheed and Raytheon as part of a risk-reduction phase able to move the technology forward, Lehner said.

Steve Nicholls, Director of Advanced Air & Missile Defense Systems for Raytheon, told Scout Warrior last year that the MOKV is being developed to provide the MDA with “a key capability for its Ballistic Missile Defense System - to discriminate lethal objects from countermeasures and debris. The kill vehicle, launched from the ground-based interceptor extends the ground-based discrimination capability with onboard sensors and processing to ensure the real threat is eliminated.”

MOKV could well be described as a new technological step in the ongoing maturation of what was originally conceived of in the Reagan era as “Star Wars” – the idea of using an interceptor missile to knock out or destroy an incoming enemy nuclear missile in space. This concept was originally greeted with skepticism and hesitation as something that was not technologically feasible.

Not only has this technology come to fruition in many respects, but the capability continues to evolve with systems like MOKV. MOKV, to begin formal product development by 2022, is being engineered with a host of innovations to include new sensors, signal processors, communications technologies and robotic manufacturing automation for high-rate tactical weapons systems, Nicholls explained.

The trajectory of an enemy ICBM includes an initial “boost” phase where it launches from the surface up into space, a “midcourse” phase where it travels in space above the earth’s atmosphere and a “terminal” phase wherein it re-enters the earth’s atmosphere and descends to its target. MOKV is engineered to destroy threats in the “midcourse” phase while the missile is traveling through space.

An ability to destroy decoys as well as actual ICBMs is increasingly vital in today’s fast-changing technological landscape because potential adversaries continue to develop more sophisticated missiles, countermeasures and decoy systems designed to make it much harder for interceptor missile to distinguish a decoy from an actual missile.

As a result, a single intercept able to destroy multiple targets massively increases the likelihood that the incoming ICBM threat will actually be destroyed more quickly without needing to fire another Ground Based Interceptor.  

Pages