COMMENTARY: Successful missile test is welcome news amid new threats | Opinion
First, the North Korean threat is visibly advancing, as Pyongyang’s display of its new “monster” ICBM in a parade last month demonstrates. It’s only a matter of time before its force will become large enough to overwhelm our fleet of 44 interceptors.
Second, the fate of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system is uncertain. The Pentagon is pursuing the Next Generation Interceptor program to both increase the capacity of our missile defense system to 64 interceptors and eventually replace our current interceptors, which are old.
The Missile Defense Agency aims to begin fielding the Next Generation Interceptor by 2028, but it would be naive to assume such an acquisition program would be free from risk of delay.
Enter the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor. This year, the Pentagon proposed developing a homeland defense “underlay”—a second layer of interceptors that can take a shot at incoming missiles if our Ground-based Midcourse Defense system’s interceptors miss. The SM-3 Block IIA interceptor can launch from Navy destroyers or from Aegis Ashore missile defense systems, and is originally designed to intercept theater-range missiles.
The Missile Defense Agency and Navy accomplished a remarkable feat with this intercept, marking the first use of a theater-range, ship-launched interceptor to shoot down a long-range missile. If SM-3 Block IIA interceptors can defend against ICBMs, then the United States could deploy them as a hedge against impending uncertainty in homeland defense.