Congress Cuts Funds for Layered Defense System

April 2022
By John Bedard

Congress has shot down the Pentagon’s request for funding in the fiscal year 2022 defense appropriations bill to develop a layered homeland missile defense system.

MDA has hit a milestone for integrating the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, shown, with the Patriot air and missile defense system, firing an advanced Patriot missile from THAAD. (Photo by Lockheed Martin via Getty Images)The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) aims to adapt the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Aegis missile defense systems, both designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, in order to bolster the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The GMD system, based in California and Alaska, is designed to respond to intercontinental ballistic missile threats.

But in the appropriations bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in March, funding for this new layered system was axed due to a “lack of requirement,” lawmakers wrote in an explanatory statement. The appropriations bill matched the authorization bill passed in December in subtracting both the $99 million MDA request for adapting Aegis missiles to the GMD system and the $65 million request to demonstrate the THAAD system’s ability to take out long-range threats. The GMD program’s research and development budget for this effort also was decreased by $10 million. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

In addition, the appropriations bill deleted $42 million from the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) program, reducing it to $884 million. The Pentagon plans to supplement the existing 44 GMD interceptors with 20 NGI missiles beginning no later than 2028, bringing the fleet total to 64.

Although the R&D budget for the THAAD program was decreased by 23 percent to $213 million, the law boosted THAAD procurement funds by $129 million, for a total price tag of $381 million, in order to purchase an additional 14 interceptors for the system. The R&D cut in the THAAD program was related specifically to the layered homeland defense system; the boost in procurement will underwrite the use of THAAD missiles in other circumstances.

Two weeks before the signing of the spending bill, the MDA test-fired its most sophisticated version of the Patriot missile from a THAAD system in New Mexico. The launch of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement on Feb. 24 marked the final step toward integrating two battle systems that can provide “critical multi-tier missile defense capability,” according to Lockheed Martin in a statement to Defense News.

Overall, Congress gave the MDA $1.4 billion more than requested for fiscal year 2022, bringing its budget to $10.3 billion.

Meanwhile, the MDA’s Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor program received an appropriation of $269 million, including $110 million for launching two satellites in 2023. At the same time, the law boosted the development budget of the Space Development Agency (SDA) by $550 million in order to speed plans for the National Defense Space Architecture Tracking Layer, which means the launch of satellites in low-earth orbit capable of identifying and tracking threats such as hypersonic weapons will take place in 2025 instead of 2027.

In the explanatory statement accompanying the legislation, lawmakers acknowledged that the space sensor system launch strategy is “inconsistent” with previous MDA plans of launching such payloads into orbit aboard SDA satellites.

Congress criticized the MDA and SDA for “a lack of coordination and cooperation” and wasting taxpayer dollars by each launching their own satellites.