U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, Director, U.S. Missile Defense Agency

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As chief executive of Washington’s politically charged and technologically taxing missile defense program, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly has the daunting task of harmonizing often conflicting operational, budgetary and diplomatic demands for defending the United States, its forward-deployed forces and international partners from ballistic missile attack.

O’Reilly and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) managers have cradle-to-grave responsibility for developing, testing and delivering integrated land-, sea- and space-based capabilities for tracking and intercepting ballistic missiles of different types under a wide range of attack scenarios.

And with international cooperation a key tenet of the MDA’s new, lower-risk approach, O’Reilly brings his command background and advanced degrees in physics, business and strategic studies to bear in executing his mission.

He spoke recently with Space News correspondent Barbara Opall-Rome

 

Does the U.S. Army’s request to transfer its missile defense portfolio to MDA signal a sea change in your mission mandate?

Ten years ago, when the Army assumed responsibility for its Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptors, there was a different philosophy driving the MDA mandate. At that time, the thinking was for MDA to develop the systems to a point of maturity, and then transfer acquisition and management responsibilities to the individual services. Back then, PAC-3 was the most mature program and it indeed got transferred to the Army.

But now, given the evolving threats and the need for continuous upgrades based on intelligence, there really is not a point where a system is completely mature and can neatly be transferred to production. We are always going to be upgrading our systems and therefore it was determined that MDA should stay involved throughout the entire life cycle process. But as for the Army’s specific lower-tier transfer request, it’s still going through the decision process and won’t happen until 2013 at the earliest.

 

How do you avoid cost creep if you’re continuously upgrading production systems?

We design all our systems so they can be upgraded without changing out hardware in the field. The best way to do this is through maintenance, so when a system goes to depot after several years in the field, that’s the best time to make software changes and add new capabilities. By being responsible for sustainment, MDA can control costs while providing better capabilities to meet evolving threats.

 

In congressional testimony, you’ve highlighted the need for interoperability of all U.S. and allied interceptors and supporting sensors. Is this a realistic requirement?

Absolutely, and we’re not going for interoperability that’s achieved after the fact, but rather full integration from the get-go. MDA designs and manages the entire ballistic missile defense architecture — whether homeland or regional missile defense — from a single set of requirements and specifications. So they’re not separate systems, but literally one holistic network built to operate as a single system. It took us 10 years to get to the point where we have one systems engineering process and one set of specifications writ large for the entire globe. This allows us to do all the trades and provide the most low-risk, cost-effective means of meeting all our missile defense requirements.

 

Great rhetoric, but how can this be translated into the holistic system you speak of?

A good example is the Aegis ashore system. We saw this great capability on ships and saw the need to replicate this capability on land. By looking down from the top, it was a simple decision to take those [SM-3 Block 2A] missiles off the ship and build land variants of the same Aegis system. And now we have a brand new capability that never existed before, with a worldwide logistics sustainment and training program in place that costs tremendously less than had we developed a land system from scratch.

 

And what about systems deployed by the Israelis and those planned for NATO countries, Japan and other partners. Will they all work as a single system in combat?

The international partner program is part and parcel of our mainstream program. They’re not considered as adjuncts to U.S. missile defense, but part of the same network of systems. So with NATO, Israel or Japan, they’re all working from the same specifications that take into account all the required interfaces. We have a set process for all our partners. We typically start with studies, then move to simulations and assist in calibrating country-specific requirements from the very beginning to fit into the overall system. Today, we’re working with over 20 countries for the collective benefit of us all.

 

But each country has its own operational, cost and industrial base considerations. How does it all pull together?

First of all, I want to emphasize that we don’t control another country’s system or how a country chooses to develop its systems. But we put in place up-front agreements that drive genuine partnerships for designing systems that can be readily integrated. With Israel, for example — our oldest partner with whom we have an extremely mature relationship — we’ve actually replicated an Israeli command-and-control center here in the United States and similar interconnected laboratories are planned with NATO and other partners. Together we conduct many simulation excursions, hundreds of different scenarios to optimize and continually improve upon the design.

So when you ask about how we can have confidence in combat? The answer is we practice it, we exercise it, we’re full partners in flight tests to the point that beyond basic sharing of data, the links are in place to operate as a unit when we have to face actual threats.

 

The June 9 meeting between NATO and Russia failed to resolve Moscow’s concerns that the Phased Adaptive Approach for European defense undermines its nuclear deterrent capabilities. What’s the added value of defending Europe against the Iranian threat if it actually sparks a renewed missile race between Moscow and Washington?

It’s a universal understanding that missile defense can only be better when we integrate with as many partners as possible, including Russia. There really are no downsides. It’s not offense, but pure defense.

We firmly believe and it will be apparent to Russia from our test program that the slower missiles planned for Europe can provide great coverage against long-range missile threats from the Middle East as long as they’re in the right location. And because those interceptors are small and limited in range to be effective only in the region in which they are deployed, they cannot come close to constituting a threat to Russian ICBMs.

 

But isn’t the relatively fast SM-3 Block 2B interceptor planned for deployment by 2020 the real cause for concern, and not the slower Block 2A?

When compared to our previous program for Ground Based Interceptors, even the most advanced interceptors planned under our European Phased Adaptive Approach should not generate cause for concern. We intend to show the Russians — and they can measure for themselves — that yes, indeed, a two-ton missile does not have the range of a 25-ton missile.

And for our partners, we want to prove that this $15 million missile launched from the right location can still effectively destroy an ICBM coming over at significantly reduced cost.

 

In keeping with MDA’s holistic single system approach, wouldn’t it make more sense to adapt a variant of the U.S.-funded Israeli Arrow 3 planned for deployment by 2014 rather than the entirely new SM-3 Block 2B that won’t come on line until 2020? And wouldn’t this slower missile be more palatable to the Russians?

We want to let everybody leverage the particular way they choose to design their systems so that everyone benefits. One of the keys of the 2B is that it’s much smaller than Arrow-3. The SM-3 2B uses a goal-tending approach like in soccer. You have your goal and you have your shooter and you have the ball coming in, and the defender has to be in the right place at the right time. So the greater mobility to be provided by 2B is critical for allowing us to rapidly surge to the optimum location in the right time. Arrow-3 is not as readily redeployable.

 

Is your target program back on track following redesign of the L3 Coleman air-launched system?

We have a nonintercept test later this month in the Pacific to determine whether or not we have a highly reliable, repeatable, very robust target delivery system. If successful, it will mark the turning point to our future use of air-launched targets over water, which is really needed in our business.

 

Why did MDA postpone until November its selection of a Ground-based Midcourse Defense prime contractor?

We determined that all parties could benefit from another round of discussions and continued refinement of the respective proposals. We simply want to make sure we understand what is being proposed and that they understand what, exactly, we’re asking for.