GAO: MDA Recommends Relocating SM-3 Block IIB in Northern Sea

Came across an interesting 01.29.13 briefing by GAO to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces makes on Phase IV of EPAA’s SM-3 Block II B interceptor, entitled ““Standard Missile-3 Block IIB Analysis of Alternatives.”

The briefing makes three main points based on MDA’s studies: (1) Romania is not a good location; (2) defending U.S. territory from the Poland site may require launching during boost phase; (3) North Sea is better location for defending U.S. territory than Poland; and calls for alternatives to SM-3 Block IIB to be explored to ensure an optimal concept and avoid cost increases, schedule delays and technology maturity challenges.

The briefing is apparently first in a series of GAO’s responses to a request by Michael R. Turner (R), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, that GAO examine EPAA. The briefing focuses on how alternatives were evaluated for the SM-3 Block IIB program, which began in June 2010 with the aim of fielding the missile by 2022 as part of Phase IV of EPAA.  I should note that it is this stage that is to give EPAA what US side insists will be only a limited capability to intercept ICBM, but what Russian side insists can pose a real threat to Russian ICBM fleet. Russian generals are particularly worried about deployment of SM-III Block IIB in seas off northern Europe, which GAO’s summary of MDA’s studies recommends. But they might be even more worried if an alternative plan, recommended by NRC last year as replacement of Phase IV and supported by House Republicans, is implemented to deploy ground-based interceptors on U.S. East Coast.

See main points of the briefing below  

  • MDA’s SM-3 Block IIB program did not conduct a formal analysis of alternatives prior to beginning technology development because it was given the flexibility in 2002 o defer the application of the defense acquisition cycle to specific elements, including   SM-3 Block IIB.
    • The SM-3 Block IIB was not specifically compared to other alternatives, including the interceptor used in the prior administration’s plan.
    • “While this does not mean the SM-3 Block IIB is not a viable choice, but without fully exploring alternatives, programs may not achieve an optimal concept for the war fighter, are at risk for cost increases, and can face schedule delays or technology maturity challenges.”
  • MDA initially assumed that SM-3 Block IIB interceptors would be based on land at host nation facilities in Romania and Poland. However, subsequent MDA analyses (the following is GAO’s summary of what must be MDA studies of EPAA) demonstrated:
  1. The Romania site was not a good location from a flight path standpoint for defending the United States with the SM-3 Block IIB.
  2. The Poland site may require the development of the ability to launch the interceptor earlier—during the boost phase of the threat missile—to be useful for defense of the United States.
    • Such a capability may require a new operational concept and additional investment of $130 million.
  3. A ship-based SM-3 Block IIB in the North Sea is a better location for defense of the United States and it does not require launch during boost capabilities.
    • This option, if liquid propellants are used, would offer offer performance advantages, such as a faster missile, but also pose significant safety risks and unknown, but likely substantial, cost implications.