America’s Plan to Spend $17.7 Billion on Just 31 Surface-to-Air Missiles
The fantasy missile to destroy incoming ICBMs in space
The Pentagon plans to spend almost $18 billion to develop, produce and support its new interceptor to stop incoming nuclear missiles from North Korea or Iran, the first major defense procurement award of the Biden administration, according to newly released figures.
Teams led by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. will receive between them as much as $13.1 billion in the development phase of the Next Generation Interceptor. Their competition will culminate in a winner-take-all selection process following a “critical design review” — possibly by 2026 — leading to the construction of as many as 31 new interceptors, including 10 for testing.
The production phase is estimated to cost $2.3 billion, with long-term support costs totaling another $2.3 billion, according to estimates prepared by the Pentagon’s independent cost assessment unit.
“We’re focusing on the technology development phase at this time,” Missile Defense Agency spokesman Mark Wright said in a statement. The agency intends to begin fielding the Next Generation Interceptor “no later than 2028,” he said.
Such cost estimates are intended to give civilian officials a reality check on the pricetag of a major weapons system. They also give analysts and investors in Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman a sense for the size and scope of potential revenue from the new program.
The interceptors are designed to crash into and destroy incoming missiles from an adversary such as North Korea or Iran. They would be installed on missiles based in Alaska. Each of the 31 interceptors is estimated to cost about $498 million.
The new interceptor is intended to correct the mistakes of a failed warhead program that spanned the Obama and Trump administrations before it was canceled in August 2019 after $1.2 billion was spent on a project meant for deployment in 2023.
Amid growing perceived threats from the fast modernising arsenals of nuclear capable intercontinental range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) fielded by China, Russia and North Korea, the U.S. is reportedly planning to invest in the acquisition of 21 Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) surface to air missiles designed to defend the American mainland from such attacks.
The new missile defence system is expected to replace the ageing Ground-based Midcourse Defence (GMD) system, although the immense cost of the program at a time of economic crisis and increasingly strained budgets has led to growing questions regarding whether it is an effective investment.
Each enemy ICBM is expected to require three NGI missiles to intercept it – potentially more for a more advanced ICBM with decoys or a manoeuvrable warhead some of which may be impossible to intercept altogether.
Against China or Russia, therefore, this capability may be effetely useless, while even the much smaller but increasingly sophisticated arsenal of North Korea would very likely be able to bypass these defences today – let alone by thee time the NGI is actually deployed by which time the Korean intercontinental range strike capability is expected to be much larger and more advanced.
A report from Bloomberg estimated that the NGI missiles will cost a tremendous $498 million each, with the total program cost which would bring the size of the arsenal up two a few dozen expect to cost $17.7 billion when including R&D and sustainment costs.
The program is expected to see up to 31 interceptors built, with 21 starting to be deployed operationally by 2028 and the remaining 10 of set aside for tests.
With U.S. adversaries expected to field growing numbers of hypersonic strategic missiles over the coming decade, the NGI will almost certainly be overwhelmingly outmatched before it is even deployed.
The fact that ICBMs come at a very small fraction of the cost of the interceptors bodes ill for America’s ability to defend its airspace even against smaller attacks.
The alternative to the program, however, could be retiring GMD without replacement. This may be seen as politically unfeasible considering growing perceptions of an ICBM threat from North Korea in particular – with which the United States remains technically at war.
Source: Military Watch Magazine