The U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) plan to equip its sea-based interceptor rockets with a shotgun-style kill vehicle was dealt a

setback by the 2008 defense appropriations legislation signed into law

Nov. 13.

Citing affordability concerns, Congress

elected to eliminate

funding in 2008 for

integrating the Multiple Kill Vehicle concept with the Standard Missile (SM)-3 interceptors used with the Aegis sea-based missile defense system.

The Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) effort began in 2004 when MDA awarded a contract with a potential value of $768 million to Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., to begin developing the system. Lockheed Martin’s concept uses a carrier vehicle to dispense a batch of small kill vehicles intended to overcome

enemy decoys by destroying all likely targets in the area.

The MKV effort was conceived primarily as a next generation kill vehicle for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System. MDA announced in February

its intention to apply the MKV to the Aegis sea-based defense system and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor when the agency sent its budget request to Congress that month


The Kinetic Energy Interceptor could

be used as a next generation booster rocket for both the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System and

for boost-phase missile defense.

MDA also brought Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., into the program to develop a backup option. Raytheon’s concept deploys the kill vehicles directly from the booster rocket, rather than relying on a carrier.

In the conference report resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2008 defense appropriations legislation, the appropriations committees expressed concern that MDA could not adequately fund work on applying the parallel multiple kill concepts to the Aegis sea-based system as well as the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor.

While Congress cut the $63 million requested for the sea-based multiple kill work, it added $25 million to the agency’s budget to be applied to a multiple kill vehicle effort on

the Raytheon and Lockheed Martin concepts for

the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System and Kinetic Energy Interceptor.

Overall, MDA received $231.5 million of its $271.2 million request for the Multiple Kill Vehicle effort, and $1.13 billion for the sea-based interceptor program, which was more than the

$1.06 billion it had requested for that


Appropriations aides said

they made the decision to cut the funding to the multiple kill vehicle work for the SM-3 because there simply was not enough money to go around, and not because the kill vehicle’s improved capability against decoys was deemed less relevant to the sea-based defense concept.

Baker Spring, a missile defense expert at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, said that sea-based defense systems face the same challenges against decoys as their land-based counterparts as they confront enemy missiles in their midcourse phase of flight. However, a multiple kill warhead may offer less payoff to the sea-based concept than finding a lighter weight kill vehicle that can increase the speed of the interceptor, Spring said.

Advocates for knocking down missiles in their boost and early midcourse phase have prized the mobile nature of the Aegis ships to be positioned in optimal locations

for such intercepts. Spring noted that a lighter kill vehicle could better enable the ships to hit missiles in those phases, or even keep pace with advancements in missile technology to hit faster missiles in the later midcourse phases.

While MDA is addressing the issue of a lighter kill vehicle to a limited degree with an advanced version of the SM-3 under cooperative development with Japan, more resources should be devoted to bringing down the weight of the kill vehicle for sea-based missile defense, Spring said.

The sea-based missile defense program is currently 12 for 13 in intercept attempts, including the two targets destroyed during a Nov. 6 test, according to Ed Miyashiro, vice president for Raytheon Missile Defense Systems.