Missile Defense Agency

Missile Defense Agency
Missile Defense Agency
Agency overview
Formed 2002
Preceding agencies Strategic Defense Initiative
Ballistic Missile Defense Organization
Jurisdiction Federal government of the United States

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is the section of the United States government's Department of Defense responsible for developing a layered defense against ballistic missiles. The agency has its origins in the Strategic Defense Initiative, which was established in 1983 and was headed by Lt. General James Alan Abrahamson with physicist and engineer James A. Ionson, Ph.D., as head of the Innovative Sciences and Technology Office. It was renamed as the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in 1993, and then renamed as the Missile Defense Agency in 2002. See National Missile Defense for the history of DoD missile defense programs.


Mission statement

According to the agency's web-page:

"The Missile Defense Agency's mission is to develop, test and prepare for deployment of a missile defense system. Using complementary interceptors, land-, sea-, air- and space-based sensors, and battle management command and control systems, the planned missile defense system will be able to engage all classes and ranges of ballistic missile threats. Our programmatic strategy is to develop, rigorously test, and continuously evaluate production, deployment and operational alternatives for the ballistic missile defense system. Missile defense systems being developed and tested by MDA are primarily based on hit-to-kill technology. It has been described as hitting a bullet with a bullet - a capability that has been successfully demonstrated in test after test."

International Mission

BMDS must be able to be operated in different regions of the world in order for the success of the MDA mission. The International Strategy was approved by the MDA Director in 2007. The general strategy for international efforts is:[1]

Outreach: Communicate the importance of missile defense by promoting worldwide BMDS by sharing information with allies and partners.
Capability and Interoperability: Identify and integrate U.S and partner systems to create global missile defense system. Promote interoperability among allies.
Technology: Identify and evaluate possible international technology in support of BMDS capabilities.
Investment: Identify and execute investment opportunities with allies and partners.
Workforce: Shape a qualified workforce to execute the MDA International Strategy.

Potential Enemies of the United States

Ballistic missile systems using advanced liquid- or solid- propellant propulsion are becoming more mobile, accurate and capable of striking targets over longer distances and are proliferating worldwide.

  • Iran currently has short- and medium- range missiles with improved lethality and more accurate guidance systems. Iran’s launch of a medium range, solid fuel ballistic missile demonstrates its ability to hit targets in Israel and southern Europe.[2] Iran also successfully launched the Safir Space Launch Vehicle on Feb 2, 2009. It was then speculated that development of an ICBM was not far behind. Intelligence reports that a missile could be built sometime between 2010 and 2015 perhaps using help from Russian and North Korean technology.[3]
  • North Korea currently deploys a No Dong ballistic missile capable of hitting Japan and South Korea, and is developing a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) which can reach Guam and the Aleutian Islands. They also successfully demonstrated the staging and separation technologies required to launch a Taepo-Dong 2 ICBM which has the capability to reach the United States.[4]
  • Syria also may pose a threat for Short Range Ballistic Missiles as it acquires equipment from North Korea and Iran.[1]


MDA divides its systems into 4 phases, boost, ascent, mid-course and terminal, each corresponding to a different phase of the threat ballistic missile flight regime. Each phase offers different advantages and disadvantages to a missile defense system (see missile defense classified by trajectory phase), and the geography of each defended area dictates the types of systems that can be employed, thus the flexible and layered defense approach concept should improve overall defense effectiveness. The more opportunities you have to shoot it down, the better the chance of success.

Alternatively activities are categorized in 5 "blocks". For example, block 4.0 is "Defend Allies and Deployed Forces in Europe from Limited Iranian Long-Range Threats and Expand Protection of U.S. Homeland". It includes the US missile defense complex in Poland to be constructed, and the European Mid-course Radar (EMR) currently located at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll, to be modified and relocated to the Czech Republic.[5][6]

Boost Phase

Can intercept all ranges of missiles, but the missile boost phase is only from one to five minutes. It is the best time to track the missile because it is bright and hot. The missile defense interceptors and sensors must be within close proximity to the launch, which is not always possible. This is the most desirable interception phase because it destroys the missile early in flight at its most vulnerable point and the debris will typically fall on the launching nations' territory.

Ascent Phase

This is the phase after powered flight but before the apogee. It is significantly less challenging than boost phase intercepts, less costly, minimizes the potential impact of debris and reduce the number of interceptors required to defeat a raid of missiles.

Midcourse Phase

This phase begins after booster burns out and begins coasting in space. This can last as long as 20 minutes. Any debris remaining will burn up as it enters the atmosphere. Ground based missile defense systems can defend from long-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in this phase. Mobile elements can defend against medium and short ranged missiles in midcourse.

Terminal Phase

This phase is the last chance to intercept the warhead. This contains the least-desirable Interception Point (IP) because there is little room for error and the interception will probably occur close to the defended target.[1]

Boost phase defense

  • Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) - in December 2003, MDA awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman for developing and testing. It will have to be launched from a location not too far from the launch site of the target missile (and is therefore less suitable against large countries), it has to be fired very soon after launch of the target, and it has to be very fast itself (6 km/s). In 2009, the Department of Defense and MDA determined that Northrop Grumman could never build anything this technologically advanced and has cancelled the program, allocating no funding for it in its recent budget submission.[7]
  • Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser (ABL) - Team ABL proposed and won the contract for this system in 1996. A high-energy laser was used to intercept a test target in January 2010,[8] and the following month, successfully destroyed two test missiles.[9]

One can distinguish disabling the warheads and just disabling the boosting capability. The latter has the risk of "shortfall": damage in countries between the launch site and the target location.

See also APS report.

Ascent Phase Defense

  • Ascent phase intercept (API) - Emerging intercept technologies are being developed and designed to defeat launched missiles in their ascent phase. This phase is after the boost phase and prior to the threat missile’s apogee (midcourse). The Ascent phase intercept program is still classified so there is little information on it.

Midcourse (ballistic) phase defense

Terminal phase defense

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Testing: Building Confidence". Missile Defense Agency. 2009. http://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/2009MDAbook.pdf. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  2. ^ "Iran tests longest range missiles". BBC News. 2009-09-28. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8278026.stm. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  3. ^ Hildreth, Steven A. (2008-07-21). "Iran’s Ballistic Missile Programs: An Overview". Congressional Research Service. The Library of Congress. http://digital.library.unt.edu/govdocs/crs/permalink/meta-crs-10718:1. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  4. ^ "North Korea's missile programme". BBC News. 2009-05-27. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/2564241.stm. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  5. ^ "Ballistic Missile Defense System". GlobalSecurity.org. http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/systems/bmds.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-07 
  6. ^ G. Lewis and T. Postol (May/June 2008). "The European missile defense folly". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) 64: 33. doi:10.2968/064002009. http://thebulletin.metapress.com/content/26914u580t572352/?p=137d290a0177425cb0d211b9a6b8693b&pi=0. Retrieved 2008-11-07 
  7. ^ "President's Budget Submission for Program Element 0603886C". Apr. 27, 2009. http://www.defenselink.mil/comptroller/defbudget/fy2010/budget_justification/pdfs/03_RDT_and_E/Vol_2_MDA/PE-0603886C-Interceptors.pdf. 
  8. ^ Airborne Laser (ABL) 2010. US Missile Defense Agency, January 10, 2010. Retrieved: January 25, 2010.
  9. ^ "U.S. successfully tests airborne laser on missile". Reuters. Feb 12, 2010. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN1111660620100212?type=marketsNews. 
  10. ^ "Raytheon Awarded $10 million to Develop New Missile Defense Interceptor". Raytheon. Sept. 18, 2008. http://raytheon.mediaroom.com/index.php?item=1080. 
  11. ^ "President's Budget Submission for Program Element 0603894C". Apr. 27, 2009. http://www.defenselink.mil/comptroller/defbudget/fy2010/budget_justification/pdfs/03_RDT_and_E/Vol_2_MDA/PE-0603894C-MKV.pdf. 

External links

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