Pentagon Moves On New Missile Interceptors

April 2021

The Defense Department in March awarded two research and development contracts for the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to augment the U.S. missile defense system designed to defend the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack.

Worth an estimated maximum value of $1.6 billion through fiscal year 2022, the contract award will carry two designs forward into the technology development and risk reduction stage and “ensure NGI is an efficient and effective part of an integrated Missile Defense System (MDS) solution,” according to the Pentagon’s March 23 announcement.

The contract awards come on the heels of the Pentagon’s August 2019 decision to cancel Boeing’s contract to develop the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) and prioritize the development of an entirely new interceptor. (See ACT, October 2019.) This means the current fleet of 44 Ground-Based Interceptors fielded in Alaska and California will continue to rely on the aging kill vehicles originally slated to be replaced by the RKV through at least 2028, Vice Admiral John Hill, Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told the Heritage Foundation in August 2020. Congress had appropriated more than $1 billion for the RKV program from fiscal years 2015 through 2019.

“By planning to carry two vendors through technology development, MDA will maximize the benefits of competition to deliver the most effective and reliable homeland defense missile to the warfighter as soon as possible,” Hill said.

Boeing, which has long held the development and sustainment contract for the existing Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system and submitted a bid to build NGI, was not awarded a contract.

In order to cover the perceived lapse in missile defense coverage generated by the cancellation of the RKV, the Missile Defense Agency requested funding in fiscal year 2021 for adapting the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense regional missile defense systems into a layered homeland defense architecture. Some members of Congress, however, have raised questions about the wisdom and viability of this approach. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The NGI will, according to the Pentagon, be designed primarily to defend against potential ICBM attacks from Iran and North Korea and is intended to possess an improved ability to discriminate between warheads and decoys over the current generation of interceptors. The winner of the contract will likely initially produce 20 interceptors to add to the fleet of 40 interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, to be housed in silos initially procured for the first 20 interceptors fitted with the RKV.—NICHOLAS SMITH ADAMOPOULOS