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National Missile Defense

The objective of the Clinton Administration's National Missile Defense (NMD) program was to develop and maintain the option to deploy a cost effective, operationally effective, and Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty compliant system that will protect the United States against limited ballistic missile threats, including accidental or unauthorized launches or Third World threats.

On 01 September 2000 President Bill Clinton announced that he will let the next US president decide whether to deploy the National Missile Defense (NMD) system. In an address at Georgetown University, Clinton announced that he had decided not to authorize NMD deployment, because "I simply cannot conclude, with the information I have today, that we have enough confidence in the technology and the operational effectiveness of the entire NMD system to move forward to deployment." But the president pointed out that "no nation can ever have a veto over American security, even if the United States and Russia cannot reach agreement; even if we cannot secure the support of our allies at first; even if we conclude that the Chinese will respond to NMD by increasing their arsenal of nuclear weapons substantially with a corollary inevitable impact in India and then in Pakistan." Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen made a brief statement saying that Clinton made the announcement in order to allow the next US president to have a hand in the decision-making on the framing of the NMD. He affirmed that the test plan for NMD will go on.

The primary mission of National Missile Defense was defense of the United States (all 50 states) against a threat of a limited strategic ballistic missile attack from a rogue nation. Such a system would also provide some capability against a small accidental or unauthorized launch of strategic ballistic missiles from more nuclear capable states. The means to accomplish the NMD mission were as follows:

  • Field an NMD system that meets the ballistic missile threat at the time of a deployment decision.
  • Detect the launch of enemy ballistic missile(s) and track.
  • Continue tracking of ballistic missile(s) using ground based radars.
  • Engage and destroy the ballistic missile warhead above the earth's atmosphere by force of impact.

The National Missile Defense Program was originally a technology development effort. In 1996, at the direction of the Secretary of Defense, NMD was designated a Major Defense Acquisition Program and transitioned to an acquisition effort. Concurrently, BMDO was tasked with developing a deployable system within three years. This three-year development period will culminate in the year 2000, when there will be a DOD Deployment Readiness Review to review technical readiness of NMD elements. Because the three-year deployment planning period is combined with an additional three-year deployment option, the total effort is referred to as the NMD "3+3" program. The decision to be made is whether to deploy an NMD system. This decision will be based on the analysis of the potential ballistic missile threat to the United States, technical readiness of the NMD system for deployment, projected cost to build and operate the NMD system, and other factors including potential environmental impacts of deploying and operating the NMD system. If the decision is to deploy, then siteswould be selected from the range of alternatives studied. Should the deployment option not be exercised in the year 2000, NMD will continue development of technology enhancements for NMD elements.


In mid 1993, the Department of Defense (DoD) conducted a Bottom-Up Review (BUR) to select the strategy, force structure, and modernization programs for America's defense in the post-Cold War era. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the threat to the U.S. homeland from a deliberate or accidental ballistic missile attack by states of the former Soviet Union (FSU) or the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) was judged to be highly unlikely. In addition, the ability of Third World countries to acquire or develop a long range ballistic missile capability in the near future was considered uncertain. As a prudent approach for responding to this uncertain threat, the Department pursued a technology readiness strategy for National Missile Defense (NMD) to develop and maintain the ability to deploy ballistic missile defenses for the United States should a threat emerge.

Following the 1994 elections, some in the new Congress began to call for the rapid acceleration of national missile defense development, leading to deployment of a capable defense system as soon as possible. This shift toward early deployment reflected a general sense that the risk of the rapid emergence of a ballistic missile threat to the United States by determined rogue actors was becoming increasingly acute. BMDO responded by creating a "Tiger Team" to develop an NMD architecture capable of being deployed at the earliest possible date to counter the developing rogue nation ballistic missile threat. The threat scenario addressed by the Tiger Team was the acquisition of SS-25-like technology by Libya. The Tiger Team considered a number of NMD alternatives, including options to deploy a system as early as possible, if required. The initial architecture the Tiger Team considered was 20 Minuteman ICBMs -- retrofitted with kinetic kill vehicles -- at Grand Forks AFB, ND, supported by a network of existing Early Warning Radars (EWRs) operating with software upgrades to provide the necessary track information as an emergency response system.

In February 1996, the Department completed a comprehensive Ballistic Missile Defense Program Review that addressed changes that have occurred in the ballistic missile defense environment since the 1993 BUR. For the NMD program, the findings of this review resulted in an adjustment to the goal of the NMD program and a corresponding adjustment to the Future Years Defense Program which includes additional resources in FY96-FY98 for NMD. The revised goal of the NMD program is to develop, within three years, elements of an initial NMD system that could be deployed within three additional years after a deployment decision. This approach is commonly referred to as the NMD "3+3" program.

To achieve this goal, BMDO has initiated an NMD Deployment Readiness Program. In April 1996 the USD(A&T) initiated steps to designate NMD as an Acquisition Category (ACAT) 1D program and in July 1996 the program successfully completed its first Overarching Integrated Product Team (OIPT) review. The intent of the NMD Deployment Readiness Program is to position the U.S. to respond to a strategic missile threat as it emerges by shifting emphasis from technology readiness to deployment readiness. This approach focuses on demonstrating an NMD system level capability by FY99, and being able to deploy that capability within an additional three years, if required to do so by the threat. If no threat materializes at the end of the three year development period, evolutionary development will continue on a path towards an objective system capability and the program will continue to maintain the ability to deploy within three years after a decision is made to do so.

The NMD system is composed of several elements which are required to perform the key functions involved in a ballistic missile defense engagement. The Ground Based Radar (GBR) and the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Low component (previously known as the Space and Missile Tracking System) provide the dual sensor phenomenology required to address the full spectrum of potential threats. In addition, Upgraded Early Warning Radars (UEWR) are candidate sensors in the event of an early NMD deployment within three years of the FY99 NMD integrated system test. SBIRS, which will provide midcourse tracking of targets, is currently managed and funded by the Air Force. The Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) is the weapon element that engages and destroys the threat. The Battle Management/Command, Control, and Communications (BM/C3) element provides engagement planning and human-in-control management of the engagement.

The formation of the United Missile Defense Company (UMDC), a joint venture equally owned by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and TRW, was announced on April 21, 1997. The company submitted a proposal in response to an RFP issued by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) to conduct an NMD Lead System Integration (LSI) Concept Definition (CD) study.

The Lead Systems Integrator contractor has the responsibility to design, develop, test, integrate, and potentially deploy and sustain the National Missile Defense (NMD) system. The LSI integrates all NMD element development to include the Ground Based Interceptor (GBI), Battle Management Command, Control and Communications (BMC3), Ground Based Radar (GBR), Upgraded Early Warning Radar (UEWR), Forward Based X-Band Radar (FBXB), and the Spaced Based Infrared Sensor (SBIRS-Low) system when it becomes available.

On 25 April 1997, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization announced that two contracts for the concept definition study phase of the National Missile Defense (NMD) Lead Systems Integrator were awarded to United Missile Defense Company, Bethesda, MD, and Boeing North American Inc., Downey, CA. At the end of the initial contract period, one firm would be selected for award of a contract to serve as the Lead Systems Integrator for the NMD program, currently anticipated for April 1, 1998. The execution phase will include an Integrated System Test in 1999, and culminate in a Deployment Readiness Review in 2000.

In fiscal years 1996 through 1998, Congress authorized and appropriated a total of $1,174 million more than the President's budget requests for those years. The fiscal year 1999 funding estimate does not include amounts that will be needed beginning in fiscal year 2001 to develop system improvements to keep up with changes in the threat. About $765 million above the President's fiscal year 1999 budget estimate will be needed in fiscal years 2001 through 2003

Future NMD funding requirements depend on how the system is designed and when and where it will be deployed. The government and prime contractor have not yet agreed on a final system design, and the deployment schedule and location will not be known until at least the fiscal year 2000 deployment review. To provide a basis for estimating near-term funding requirements, the program office prepared four different life-cycle cost estimates, based on two locations--one at Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the other in Alaska--and two capability levels--one available in fiscal year 2003 and the other in fiscal year 2006 [an initial operating capability would be established in fiscal year 2006, and the full operating capability would be achieved in fiscal year 2009.]. The life-cycle cost estimates show the total costs to develop and produce system components, construct facilities, deploy the system, and operate it for 20 years.

The 3+3 program was designed to enable a system to be deployed as early as fiscal year 2003, but a more capable system could be operational in fiscal year 2006. The primary differences between the two capability levels used in the cost estimates are in the type and amount of hardware included. The more capable system would have significantly more interceptors, fewer ground-based radars, but would also include a space-based sensor system. The higher cost for a deployment in Alaska by 2003 was due, in large part, to the fact that less infrastructure currently exists there, transportation costs are higher, the construction season is shorter, and the environment is harsher. After the space-based sensor system is deployed, fewer ground-based radars will be needed for an Alaskan deployment because of Alaska's location relative to potential threats. The requirement for fewer radars was the primary reason an Alaskan deployment by fiscal year 2006 was estimated to have a life-cycle cost slightly less than a deployment at Grand Forks in that same timeframe. With fewer radars, operating costs would also be lower in Alaska.

The Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation prepared independent estimates of NMD program costs in January 1998. Costs in the independent estimates were about 10 percent higher than the estimates prepared by the program office, due primarily to the fact that the independent estimates included "pre-planned product improvements" not included in the program office estimates.

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