Kinetic Energy Interceptor
The Kinetic Energy Interceptor program will provide needed additional capability to the nation's Ballistic Missile Defense System. The program was initially aimed at deploying a boost-phase intercept capability by 2008. By engaging ballistic missiles in the boost and ascent stages of flight, the KEI will provide the nation with the capability of defeating future sophisticated threats before their payloads are released. The KEI program is designed to produce interceptors capable of shooting down enemy ballistic missiles during their boost and ascent phases of flight. This effort will augment the midcourse and terminal based interceptor programs currently underway to provide a layered missile defense architecture that will guard against potential enemy attack.
The Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program's primary objective initially was developing an interceptor capable of destroying incoming missiles while their booster rockets are still burning. The longer-term objective was to develop an interceptor that can kill ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase of flight. The KEI program underwent a rebaseline plan in early 2007 that appeared to have reversed these priorities. The interceptor design is compatible with land-fixed, land-mobile, and sea-mobile operations and features a high performance booster designed to carry multiple payload types. The revised acquisition strategy for Kinetic Energy Interceptors is for payloads to be budgeted and developed under other BMDS elements that deliver each payload for integration into the Kinetic Energy Interceptors element.
The booster stack defined for the initial deployment will be designed to accept subsequent spiral-development upgrades to the interceptor and other system components. The relative velocity (or closing rate) of a KE intercept may vary from a low of 1 to 2 km/s up to a hypervelocity of 8 to 10 km/s (10 km/s = 36,000 km/hr).
By one report the KEI Interceptor was inially 36 feet long and 36 inches in diameter. Later reports suggested that the KEI was about 40 inches in diameter and almost 39 feet in length, which makes it much larger than other missiles currently fired by Navy surface ships. The SM-3 Standard missile developed for the BMD role has a 21-inch diameter and stands just over 21 feet tall.
Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) is a missile defense program whose goal is to design, develop, and deploy kinetic energy-based, mobile, ground and sea-launched missiles that can intercept and destroy enemy ballistic missiles during their boost phase. KEI element consists of Interceptor Component, Mobile Launcher Component, and Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) component.
MDA's KEI element is a new missile defense system designed to destroy long-range ballistic missiles during the boost phase of flight, the period after launch during which the missile's rocket motors are thrusting. KEI would also engage missiles in the early ascent-phase, the period immediately after booster burnout. Key components include hit-to-kill interceptors, launchers, and battle management units.
The Kinetic Energy Interceptor is designed as a multi-use land/sea all-up round. The interceptor dimensions and safety features such as a gas eject launch make it compatible with surface combatants, submarines, and large non-combatant ships. In FY 2005, Kinetic Energy Interceptors completed a joint study with the Navy on the concept of operations and feasibility of the sea-mobile multi-use mission. In FY 2006 and FY 2007 a highly detailed joint study will be completed to produce a comprehensive alternatives assessment of viable sea-mobile platforms. This Kinetic Energy Interceptor Sea-Based Alternatives Assessment was to determine the most appropriate platform for Kinetic Energy Interceptors sea-mobile platform. The Kinetic Energy Interceptor Sea-Mobile Platform Alternatives Assessment would determine the most appropriate Kinetic Energy Interceptor sea-mobile platform. The study group will recommend a platform strategy to enable platform-specific planning, system engineering, and risk reduction that will facilitate a smooth start on future sea-mobile capability development and test after the Kinetic Energy Interceptors FY 2008 booster flight and decision point.
If deployed on mobile land or sea-based launchers, its speed and ability to launch from a wider range of geographic locations will enable it to expand Ballistic Missile Defense System [BMDS] midcourse coverage even further. Its speed and high acceleration also will permit early threat engagement in the boost/ascent regime where target intercepts and observations from the kill vehicle offer the greatest defensive payoff. The additional capability to intercept in the early ascent phase enables single forward-based sites to deny and defend extremely large regions and fills coverage gaps that may arise due to geopolitical basing limitations, threat enhancements, and an adversary's unanticipated or challenging launch tactics.
The intercept of a missile in its boost phase has numerous benefits: The boosting missile, still under power from its rocket motor(s), is vulnerable due to its slower speed, large cross-section and still-attached fuel tanks. Also, if a missile is successfully attacked during the boost phase, it can be destroyed prior to release of any decoys and/or countermeasures. Finally, in the event of a successful intercept, the missile and its payload of weapons of mass destruction-nuclear, chemical or biological-may fall back on the country from which it was launched.
Kinetic boost phase intercept is a challenge because the threat missile must be detected and confirmed within a few seconds of launch. It then becomes a race between an accelerating ballistic missile and the interceptor in which the threat missile has had a head start. Another technical challenge is designing a kill vehicle that can detect and track the target following missile-staging events and then impact the missile in the presence of a brilliant plume. Near term activities will allow risk reduction activities to resolve critical technological risks associated with candidate boost systems and the development of a concept of operations through war-gaming and other planning activities.
The KEI program complements other missile defense programs in development and testing, and is an important element in the United States' approach to a layered missile defense system. This means that the objective is to develop and deploy missile defenses that can successfully intercept and destroy ballistic missiles in the boost phase, the midcourse phase (unpowered flight of a warhead high in space lasting up to 20 minutes), and the terminal phase, which is the final 30 seconds or less when the warhead is falling back to earth towards its target, powered only by gravity.
The program will leverage and build upon BMDS sensor and Command Control, Battle Management, and Communication capabilities. The Kinetic Energy Interceptor design adheres to Agency quality, safety, environmental and mission assurance standards and contains several unique design features including: direct downlink of overhead infrared sensor data to a mobile weapon, advanced boost and early ascent phase target tracking and prediction algorithms, the ability to fuse data from multiple Overhead Non-Imaging Infra-Red and radar sensors, a fast burning rocket motor for short engagement timelines, a high velocity at burnout with heavy payloads, and a large divert capability that enables early weapon commits.
Daniel Goure, UPI Outside View Commentator, noted that "One idea has been to deploy the KEI on the Navy's new class of cruisers, the CG(X). Because the Missile Defense Agency cannot make up its mind about KEI, it is contributing to delays in defining the characteristics of the CG(X). ... Deploy KEI on large naval vessels. Not the CG(X), which should be designed to meet the Navy's enduring missions, but on a variant of the Navy's new class of amphibious ships, the LPD-17. More than 680 feet long, with a loaded weight of 25,000 tons, the LPD-17 could easily carry a large number of KEIs, as well as other air and missile defenses including the Navy's Aegis system. Moreover, the LPD-17 comes equipped with one of the most modern command, control and communications suites in the Navy and therefore would be able to integrate seamlessly with the rest of the fleet."
On July 15, 2003 the Report of the American Physical Society Study Group on Boost-Phase Intercept System for National Missile Defense was released. The APS Study Group looked at boost-phase defense systems utilizing land-, sea, or air-based interceptors, space-based interceptors, or the Airborne Laser. "The effectiveness of interceptor rockets would be limited by the short time window for intercept, which requires interceptors to be based within 400 to 1,000 kilometers of the possible boost-phase flight paths of attacking missiles. In some cases this is closer than political geography allows." According to the report, even with optimistic assumptions, a terrestrial-based system would require very large interceptors with extremely high speeds and accelerations to defeat a solid-propellant ICBM launched from even a small country such as North Korea.
Space Based Boost Phase
MDA initially considered a sea-based boost activity to develop a high-speed, high-acceleration booster coupled with a boost kill vehicle. This activity would simultaneously support a proof-of-concept space-based experiment (SBX) using a space-based kinetic energy kill vehicle. The object of this work was to make product line decisions that would deliver useful initial boost defense capability by 2010, either from a mobile sea-based or a space-based platform. MDA would test a sea-based kill vehicle against a threat representative target that could put MDA on the path to an operational sea-based intercept capability.
This activity initially planned to simultaneously support a Space-Based Experiment (SBX) using a space-based kinetic energy kill vehicle. In December 2003 MDA dropped plans to spend $14 million on the space-based Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) in FY2004. Any spending on space KEI would not take place until FY2005 at the earliest.
On 19 May 2004 the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4200, the Fiscal Year 2005 Defense Authorization Bill. Rep. Loretta Sanchez had offered an amendment not included in the Bill would have directed that the $75 million in funding cuts the committee made to the Kinetic Energy Interceptor Program includes the $10.555 million budgeted for the space-based platform. This program will require a significant ramp-up in spending over the next decade. The program contains $10.555 million in funding this year for research on a space-based kinetic energy test bed. But the research is to lead to on-orbit testing in the 2010-2011 time frame and may result in a "limited experimental constellation" in 2012. The committee did not yet have a clear projection of long-term costs.
As of March 2006 it was planned that preliminary work would begin on a space-based interceptor in fiscal year 2008. If MDA should decide to go forward with a space-based interceptor, it would not be deployed until the next decade.