The U.S. Missile Defense Agency is exploring the possibility of developing a universal kill vehicle for its missile-defense arsenal, including the Ground-Based Interceptors and various versions of the Standard Missile-3.
The agency recently released a “sources sought” notification to industry for concepts for a so-called common kill vehicle, the portion of the missile that separates from the main body to “intercept” or knock an incoming projectile out of the sky.
“This research will support identification of applicable technology and concepts as well as qualified parties capable of developing and producing modular and scalable kill vehicles and component or subsystem technology applicable to the Ground Based Interceptor and current or future versions of the Standard Missile-3 missile,” the notice states.
The objective is to develop a shared technological foundation for the functions now performed by the two missile or interceptor systems, officials said.
“The overall goal is to consolidate future kill vehicle technology development efforts," agency spokesman Rick Lehner said. "This could balance our BMD [ballistic missile defense] system and allow us to achieve results at a lower cost while improving performance. An objective would be for industry to come up with ideas. We’re looking for sources that have the capability to embark upon such a program.”
The agency may issue a formal request for proposal in the future, Lehner said.
Both the land-based GBIs and SM-3 missiles are engineered to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles during the mid-course phase of flight – the period of trajectory when the projectile is above the earth’s atmosphere; thus the term "mid-course" phase, as opposed the initial “boost” phase or final “terminal” phase. The mid-course phase is the longest period of time during which an ICBM could be intercepted.
One analyst said the MDA’s market research makes sense.
“It is definitely worth exploring the feasibility of a common kill vehicle," said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Va.-based think tank. "The GBIs and SM-3 have similar technological components, meaning the kill vehicle for either would rely upon similar subsystems such as sensors and divert motors and attitude controls."
Goure also said a common kill vehicle would need to be able to fit both missile-defense systems, given the difference in size between the much larger GBIs and their smaller SM-3 interceptor counterparts.
The Ground-Based Interceptors are engineered for land-based delivery and housed at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The SM-3 missiles, meanwhile, are launched from Navy ships using the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.
However, the Pentagon is pursuing a program called Aegis Ashore to configure SM-3 interceptor missiles to fire from fixed, land-based locations in Romania and Poland. The idea is to improve the protective envelope for the U.S. and its allies by combining land-based interceptor sites with Aegis ships patrolling the oceans.
At the same time, the Pentagon earlier this year announced that 14 more Ground-Based Interceptors will be added to the arsenal in Fort Greely, Alaska. The $1 billion effort, to be completed by 2017, will bring the total number of GBIs at Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base from 30 to 44.