Check out this interview with Missile Defense Agency chairman Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly. In the interview he discusses the missile defense budget cuts and the future of missile defense
See Part 1
In the mid 1960s, the United Stated Air Force was ready to deploy its first advance surface-to-air missile defense system, the BOMBARC. The BOMBARC was to have a 440 mile range of operation but constant problems with their guided system limited the deployment of the system from nation-wide, integrated system to a more regional. On the other hand, the U.S. Army had fielded its own missile defense system since 1953, the NIKE. The initial deployed surface-to-air NIKE system used the Nike-Ajax liquid fueled missile with an operational range of thirty miles as its main interceptor asset. By the late 1958, there were over two hundred NIKE missile batteries in the U.S., primarily defending nuclear research facilities and depots. On December of 1958, the Army began the process of supplanting its Nike-Ajax missile with the more advance Nike-Hercules. The Hercules was a leap forward in the development of a surface-to-air missile. It was propelled by solid-fuel which gave the missile an operational range in excess of seventy five miles. The Hercules was also the first interceptor missile with a nuclear warhead capability. About one hundred NIKE sites were upgraded with the Hercules. Of these facilities, around fifty were redeployed to defend the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command bomber bases. The Air Command was the United States primary source for massive nuclear retaliation after a Soviet attack. The key component of the NIKE system was the advance, early-warning radar. The U.S. Defense Department was committed from the beginning to build a series of interlocking radar stations that would allow the Army to monitor the perimeter and selecting interior parts of the North American continent. The goal of the system was to provide the Air Force and Army with up-to five hours of warning to response in case of a Soviet bomber attack. The U.S. Air Force took the lead in the design, development and deployment of radar systems. The first significant antiaircraft radar platform was the LASH-Up system. It was designed by the Air Force to cover America’s costal centers and major nuclear production facilities. In 1949, LASH-Up radar stations numbered just seven, but by the end of 1951, the system grew to fifty stations. The LASH-Up system was eventually replaced by the PERMAMNENT system, which was to number seventy-four radar locations by mid 1952. The U.S. early warning radar system was supplemented by the thirty four stations of the PINETREE LINE system located across the vast Canadian territory, which in theory could provide the Air Force with two additional hours of warning in a case of a surprise attack.
In the summer of 1957, the U.S. Department of Defense approved the production of its more ambitious early detection radar system, the Distant Early Warning radar line and the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) air defense control system. The DEW consisted of a series of radar stations fifty miles part, stretching along the northern boundary of the North American continent, several miles north of the Artic Circle. In 1962, the system was upgraded to include an imaginary line from Midway Island to Scotland. The DEW radar line was the outmost line of early warning and it was assisted by the MID-Canadian Line, the PINETREE Line, the PERMANENT radar system and the Gap Filler Radar System. By the mid 1960s, the U.S. Navy had joined the club with its ship and air-borne radar picket units. With all of these layers of protection, America was still susceptible to one weapon platform, the intercontinental ballistic missile. The SAGE system incorporated the latest in computer technology to support the estimated fifty Air Force Combat Direction Centers it was schedule to defend. The Combat Direction Center was the predecessor of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD. Its main function was to coordinate all aspects, radar, sensors, the interceptor aircraft squadrons and the antiaircraft missile batteries, of the continental air defense system. SAGE became partial operational in 1958 and was fully deployable in early 1961. Each of the massive 275 ton SAGE tracking and targeting computers were housed on four-story windowless buildings. Because of their immense size and the fact that they needed to be located above ground, they were extremely vulnerable to any air attack. Still, SAGE was the first truly integrated tactical command system in the United States. It linked the Air Force’s Air Defense, Tactical Air and Strategic Command with the Army Air Defense Command and ARADCOM’s NIKE missile system. This capability gave NORAD the necessary resources to detect and track and inbound aircraft coming to the North American continent.
The United States Navy announced it will test a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) today in Hawaii. The SM-3 launched from the USS Hopper will attempt to shoot down a short-range ballistic missile shot from Barking Sands in Kaua’i. Two other Navy ships, the USS Lake Erie and the USS O’Kane will provide tracking and communications support. This is the latest test of the sea based Aegis system which so far has had 18 successful intercepts in 22 attempts.
There are currently 18 Aegis ships in the US Fleet (3 cruisers and 15 destroyers). 16 of these are stationed in the Pacific theater and 2 are in the Atlantic theater. The test intercept is expected to cost the Navy around $40 million.