Ian Brzezinski, Senior Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council
Ronald T. Kadish, Executive Vice President, Defense Group, Booz Allen Hamilton
Henry A. Obering, Senior Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton
Patrick O’Reilly, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council

IAN BRZEZINSKI: All right, good afternoon. I’m Ian Brzezinski. For those in the back, if you want to move up, we have some empty seats. It may get you closer. Please feel free to do that.

I’m Ian Brzezinski. I’m a senior fellow here and I get to be the moderator for this luncheon keynote conversation. And it is a unique panel on missile defense that you have here. Our keynote conversation is with three former directors of the Missile Defense Agency. Missile Defense Agency – the United States Missile Defense Agency has a very specific mission. It’s to ensure that United States has a capability to engage and destroy all forms of ballistic missile threats. It’s responsible for driving the development, testing, and preparation of missile defense systems, including their sensors, their battle command and control systems, the interceptors, all the systems that go into missiles defense operations that occur at sea, on land, and in the air.

MDA is also responsible for testing and evaluating current systems and planned systems against current and future threats. And, I didn’t realize this, but has an important role in overseeing and constantly assessing the production of those systems.

And when I was deputy assistant secretary of defense and I actually met Trey Obering for the first time, I learned about the important role that the Missile Defense Agency has internationally or in international policy. It’s there to – its mission is to help foster interoperability between missile defense systems of the United States and its key allies and partners, to foster joint research and development in this realm, to help coordinate investment. And I might add also, to kind of proselytize about the importance of missile defense in a world where the proliferation of ballistic missiles is becoming more and more of a dangerous reality.

MDA’s history actually goes all the way back to the 1980s, to 1983, our Strategic Defense Initiative launched by President Ronald Reagan, which was then derided by many as Star Wars. In ’85, it became institutionalized and merged as the Strategic Defense Initiative that evolved eventually, in 1993, as the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which that, in turn, evolved into the Missile Defense Agency in 2002.

MDA has an annual operating budget of around, at least this year, somewhere between $7.6 and $8 billion. Since 1985, when it became a formal organization, BMDO, Missile Defense Agency has spent some $165 billion in developing U.S. missile defense capabilities.

Now, our panelists bring, and this is what’s I think unique about our discussion today, they bring over a decade of continuous leadership of the Missile Defense Agency. And although they are former directors on Missile Defense Agency, they still remain influential thought leaders in missile defense concepts, strategies, policies, and programs.

On my far right is Lt. Gen. Ron Kadish from the Air Force, but now, the executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a firm that I used to work for. That’s where I first met him. He’s a key leader in the firm’s defense group, a multibillion-dollar business. In the Air Force, he was trained as a C-130 pilot and has over 2,500 hours in that aircraft. And his career has been defined also by senior management positions in military acquisition. He was a program director for the F-15, for the F-16, and C17.

He was commander of the Air Force Electronic Systems Center, a multibillion-dollar enterprise. And he served as a director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization from 1999 to 2002, when it evolved to become the Missile Defense Agency, which he led from 2002 to 2004.

Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, to my immediate right here, also from the Air Force, is also at Booz Allen, where he’s senior vice president and also a key leader in its defense group. He was a F-4E pilot and though was good enough to become and top gun pilot in the Air Force. And his career has included numerous important management and engineering roles in the United States Spatial Program. And he’s participated in some 15 launches.

His career brought him also to the Defense Mapping Agency, to the Air Force Electronic Systems Center and to the Inspector General. And he served as the director of the Missile Defense Agency from 2004 to 2008.

And to give you a sense of what nepotistic group this is, I can’t help but mentioning that in 2011, he was awarded the National Defense Industrial Association’s Kadish Award for Acquisition Excellence.

In a similar group is a friend or someone who’s been friend recently, is Lt. Gen. Pat O’Reilly from the Army. He’s a senior fellow here at the Atlantic Council. And he also has an illustrious career in the Army, in the military. He commanded the 1st Cavalry Division and later the 3rd Support Command in Germany.

He’s also very smart. He was professor of Physics at the United States Military Academy, but also brings great acquisition management experience. He served as a program manager for Directed Energy Programs, for the PATRIOT PAC-3, for THAAD, and for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program.

He served as the Army PEO for combat support and combat service support, and then culminated his career as the – in the Army, at least – as a director of the Missile Defense Agency, from 2008 to 2012.

So gentlemen, welcome. Thank you for your service to our country and thank you for coming to our conference on United States and global missile defense. We’re going to have an interactive conversation, but as the moderator, I’m going to take the prerogative of asking some of the first questions. And I want to start with Ron about missile defense, because you were there at an important transition point for the organization. You were the first among these three – you three gentlemen – to serve in this position.

I want to ask you what makes the Missile Defense Organization unique. It’s a joint acquisition organization. Do you believe it’s been successful, if so, why? And at this time, when we kind of cross the threshold and got to hit-to-kill capability, have systems underway, and you have other organizations like PEO Missiles and Space, is there still a continued need for MDA?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL RONALD KADISH: That’s an easy question. That was supposed to be humorous by – (inaudible). He needs a little bit of help in that regard.

Well, let me answer the question by saying that, yes, there is a continuing need for this agency because it crosses so many boundaries in our military structure that only an outside agency designed as MDA has been and will, hopefully, continue to operate, will be able to cross those boundaries in a way that would in the best interest of the United States and our international community in many regards. And I could talk more about that if folks are interested.

But MDA has been successful in many regards, not the least of which, in terms of leadership that these two gentlemen provided, as well as our predecessors in the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and the SDIO. It’s been a number of years in the making, but some of the elements of that success are probably not as well known, especially to those who haven’t been aficionados of the missile defense problem for many years. And as I look in this group, I see a number of faces that are in that category. So I apologize in advance for you’d listen to some of ancient history here.

But MDA, not only crosses those barriers that I talked about a lot easier as an independent agency, but has been granted over the years a number of extraordinary and unique authorities, if you will, in order to pursue crossing those boundaries, and has done it, I think, extremely successfully.

It was not preordained to be successful. I can take you back, and if I might, just for a couple of minutes, revisit some history. In the late ’90s and the early 2000s, when we were trying to transition the missile defense technology of hit-to-kill from an R&D prototyping activity that was a legacy of SDIO and BMDO activities to an acquisition type of organization and effort, and then, eventually, into the deployment area that Trey Obering started later on. In that timeframe, there was a huge controversy that still exists today to some degree, but not as much as back then, whether this whole technology or effort was worthwhile and could ever be done in terms of our ability to physically destroy warheads in the missile defense architecture.

So there was a huge debate going on in the late ’90s about that effort. We also had a political climate where what we were trying to do was actually against the law because we had the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in force. And that was always an interesting challenge as a director of BMDO, where I had authority over money and some program authority, but mostly money. We had a whole staff of lawyers making sure we didn’t spend it in violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which complicated things immensely, as you might expect.

However, we did move the ball fairly well in terms of capitalizing on what previous leadership and the efforts of SDIO and Ballistic Missile Defense Organization did. We actually had some success on the hit-to-kill technology with our early EKV activities and even one or two in the THAAD program, as I remember, right, Pat, that enabled us to put the THAAD program back into development and move ahead with the ground-based missile defense system.

But it was structurally untenable at the time, under the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which was hard to define in terms of structurally what an organization did versus an office and agency. So at the election of 2000, there was a great push to resolve some of these issues. And I was asked by Secretary Rumsfeld what authorities did you need and how would you structure this organization for the maximum ability to get this unprecedented technology developed and deployed as rapidly as possible. And at the same time, underpinning all of this, was the growing threat, specifically from North Korea at the time.

And so we asked for, and to my surprise, we got a number of unique authorities. We created an agency which took control of all the programs. And the way we took control of all the programs was that we had the requirements, acquisition authority, and budget authority, all in one organization called the Missile Defense Agency. And we differentiated from BMDO because of that.

At the same time, within the Office of Secretary of Defense, we formed a support group, as opposed to an oversight group, which would help us cross those boundaries I talked about earlier, as well as deal with the tough technical problems that we had in developing our hit-to-kill technology and putting it together in operationally sound process.

And when we got those authorities, we were able to start operating in a more coherent and consistent way and put discipline in the program. And, at the same time, we were legitimized by our exit from Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by President Bush. And so over the years, these things have evolved and been massaged, if you will, by the leaders that are on stage with me. And I think it’s culminated in giving Admiral Syring a firm basis to move forward in the coming years in missile defense issues and operate as a broker of technology. And the technical authority required to make sure those boundaries are addressed in the proper way.

And what was rather gratifying to me recently, we went – Trey and I attended the conference that MDA held a couple of weeks ago and hear the war fighters talk about how integral the missile defense capability is to our military structure was just astounding to me personally. Because when we started, in the early ’80s and through the late ’90s and into the early part of the century, that was not a given. And in fact, it was something that people were very skeptical about.

And as we approach the future in this unique organizational structure that we have, with the continuing vibrant leadership of the organization and in the political side, I think we can solve an awful lot of problems and maintain the success that many years of laying the groundwork in missile defense has brought us.

So the future is bright from an organizational leadership standpoint, in my view. And the technology is ready to be expanded and proliferated.

MR. BRZEZINSKI: You know, I remember when I was in Pentagon, back in 2002 or 2003, and the Bush administration went out sort of pushing its ground-based, GBI initiative on the Europeans. And I think we were – the teams that were sent out had the first films we were about to share with allies of the actual hit-to-kill. And it was such a – you know, we were traveling to Europe. It was a very skeptical audience over there. And I was amazed at how attitudes about the prospects of missile defense just changed when we were able to show them directly the data that hit-to-kill was actually real and was happening. It was very profound, one of the deeper memories that I have.

Trey, let me ask you to build on Ron’s points. Of course, hit-to-kill was a major Missile Defense Agency success, but if we could go one level down, from your experience, what have been one or two major programmatic successes and perhaps one or two major failures in MDA and what are lessons learned from that?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL HENRY OBERING: Okay. Thank you very much, Ian. One thing I want to build on with Ron’s statement is he used the word “unprecedented.” And that is a critical word and it’s something that builds on probably the biggest success in Missile Defense Agency.

We gave birth to a new core competency of United States military. There was none before. We had the ability with the Patriots to very short-range rockets and missiles in a very tactical sense. We had absolutely no protection against medium range, intermediate range, long-range missiles, back in 2004.

And so it wasn’t a matter of like you would field a new fighter or you field a new tank or you field a new weapon. There you had something in the field that you were replacing and you wanted to make sure you were doing it better. We had no protection. And that changes the whole calculus behind how you want to organize and how you want to field capabilities to make sure that you have, at least, a modicum of protection against the threat, as Ron said, was growing very dramatically back – and still is I think – back in the 2004 timeframe, which is one of the reasons why we began the deployment phase that I oversaw. As we began to field not just the GBIs in Alaska and eventually California, but also the dozens and dozens of SM-3 interceptors on Aegis ships, the THAAD batteries that came after me, but we were beginning to get back into a very robust flight test and, overall, the entire integrated architecture of the system.

We often talk about the interceptors. We forget about the radars we modified in Alaska, in California, in United Kingdom, in Thule, Greenland, about the deployable radars that we put in Japan and in other areas around the world. And, as Ron mentioned, I think one of the biggest successes has been the Sea-based X-Band Radar, which is the most powerful and the most capable sensor right now in the missile defense architecture that has helped the entire ability to integrate some of these systems together.

In terms of successes, I would say that that is – that legacy, in terms of being able to provide protection, and the idea was that we would provide this initial protection. We’d begin to – we continue to improve it and to improve it and to improve it over time, which is a strategy that the Missile Defense Agency is still pursuing.

One of the vignettes that I’ll never forget that really eliminated some of the skepticism about missile defense occurred just before Christmas, in 2007. I was called by the director of NRO at the time, and he talked about having an out of control satellite on orbit that they believed presented a danger to population, especially if it hit in a land area on an uncontrolled reentry.

And we went through, working with the strategic command, we went through all the possibilities of what we could do to help that situation. And we evaluated all the systems we had at the time – GMD, Aegis, and THAAD – to determine what would the best solution to that be. We ended up, as many of you know, and we paid very close attention to things like debris fields, the altitude of interceptor, et cetera. And we shut that missile down in the February of – as I recall, February of ’08.

The total time from the phone call I got to the time we actually accomplished the mission under STRATCOM was about eight weeks. You could not have done that in many organizations throughout DOD, to be able to generate that kind of response, because we had to modify software, we had to modify systems to be able to do that, because missile defense is not designed to shoot down satellites. We have to change a lot of limitations that are designed into the systems.

In terms of failures, there were always, as with any unprecedented capability – and you can go all the way back to our attempts to go to space in the ’50s, et cetera – you have failures. And that’s part of it. In fact, I know that that’s how you learn. That’s how you progress, and that’s how you continue down the path of success. And we, of course, had setbacks. My first two launches, when I was the director of the GMD system, were failures. One didn’t leave the silo and the other one had a problem with respect to the software.

And we set the system down, did the reviews, got back, and we ended up with three successful tests in a row, back on path. So we felt that if you don’t learn from those failures – just like in the THAAD program. I remember, before I was director even, THAAD has many, many failures. In fact, there were many more failures than successes. And now, THAAD has a remarkable 100 percent record since then, since deployment.

So you have to be able to learn from that and to make sure that you are structured to learn from that.

MR. BRZEZINSKI: Let’s look at the future path. I mean, right now, of course, our systems in layman’s terms are rocket-based. But now, there’s increasing talk and proven capabilities with railguns, directed laser, directed energy, and such. Where do you see the future of missile defense going and do you believe MDA’s directing enough time and attention to those kind of emerging capabilities?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PATRICK O’REILLY: Well, thanks, Ian. First of all, you know, we have a unique opportunity here. At the Atlantic Council, we look at – we have a group called Strategic Futures. And we’re focused on 2030, which is about 15 years from now. But if you look at the 10 years from when General Kadish took over the agency and General Obering and myself ran the agency, that’s about 15 years. And if you go back and look at between 1999 and what we have and where we are today, and then we project it forward to 2030, which is what we do here at the Atlantic Council, you can see a very steady trend, a growth and progress in some enabling technologies that are really on the cusp, I truly believe, of being game changers for missile defense.

They take a very long time. When I first came to the Missile Defense Agency, back in 1990, I was assigned the directed energy. And when you look at all the things that Ambassador Cooper had set up had to be accomplished, followed by Malcolm O’Neill and others, you look at the past directors, those checks have been occurring.

And we’ve reached a point, like I said, where I believe there’s a marrying of technical progress, especially in the areas, as Ian just alluded to and Admiral Winnefeld mentioned this morning in his keynote address here, was we’re at the cusp of marrying together those enabling technologies that I really think are going to address some of the issues that we looked at originally in missile defense, back in SDI days, of how do you handle very large raid sizes.

And, again, commenting on what Admiral Winnefeld said this morning, I 100-percent agree with his approach of there’s a lot of credit being given to countermeasures. And they’re difficult, very, very difficult to deploy effectively, just as he said. But when you start looking at the size of arsenals, that’s where it starts to become disturbing, and simultaneous launches, what if several hundred missiles could be put in the air at once? And when you start dealing in those type of environments, you start looking at, okay, what would have to be, to have an effective missile defense, what are you going to need.

And as we’ve mentioned, there’s progress been made in railguns, our tracking architectures, both passive and active, space-based, terrestrial, maritime, all these things are coming in place. And I especially want to highlight the electric laser systems, diode pumping of alkaline gases, for example, in fiber lasers, going on in industry and in several national laboratories, and FFRDCs right now, at this time. As they come together, they marry up very well with UAVs and the platforms that we’ve been looking at.

And I must give credit, I think one of the most significant accomplishments that I saw as a director, when the groundwork was laid by General Kadish and followed up by General Obering, which I think is a testament to MDA, it has the wherewithal to continue and persist in these technical achievements, and that was the ABL program.

We learned so much and there was a big focus on, well, you know, what was the operational issues and why couldn’t we deploy 747s and so forth. I think what was overlooked was a tremendous amount of knowledge we gained in lethality, beam propagation, and the general operating environment. And when you marry all that together and you look forward the next 15 years like we can look back in the last 15, you can see that it is extremely likely, if not definite, that we’re going to have these systems that can disrupt, interfere, and destroy the threats that we’ve been worried about for literally three decades or more in missile defense business.

So I definitely see application for UAVs and directed energy and other non-kinetic systems that I think are going to go after infrastructures, and not just the weapon, the missile itself, but also have that capability. So again, I agree with General Kadish and General Obering that it’s extremely bright future. I didn’t mean that as a pun, but especially in the area of light.

But the way this organization is set up, it was set up to take those risks and make those accomplishments and I see them coming. And also been noted here and in other scholarly work, we’re not the only ones working in this area. So it’s very important that the United States stay concentrated on that effort. I believe MDA is the perfect organization to do it. We’re going to need those capabilities in the future. And they will be, as far as I can tell, in theaters around the world, game changers.

LT. GEN. OBERING: If I could pick up on something that Pat said, again, about looking forward and what’s changed. We felt like the Lone Ranger, back in the 2004 timeframe in terms of nations that were really seriously pursuing missile defense capabilities. That landscape has changed dramatically. And we now have a lot of international partners that are cooperating with us, collaborating with us, building and developing their own capabilities. And I think that’s also going to increase in the future because I think everybody sees the threat landscape changing. They see how that has dramatically changed from even 15 years ago. And I think that that’s another kind of force going forward that you’re going to see more and more of that international interest, international cooperation in missile defense overall.

MR. BRZEZINSKI: Where do you see, guys, all three of you, where do you see international collaboration manifesting itself most dramatically? Will it be in operations? Could it also be in co-development of capabilities, for example, our sponsor here, Raytheon, has got a great relationship with Mitsubishi producing the SM32B if I have that right. But more importantly is the fact that they’re developing it together. What are the areas of greatest potential for international collaboration? Is it just in operations? Could it also be industrial, in light of some of the difficult technology sharing restrictions that we have?

LT. GEN. OBERING: I think it’s going to depend on the nation and I think it’s going to be all of the above, just like we have today. We have some nations that collaborate with us operationally from a concept of operations perspective. We have others in which they’re interested in buying and procuring weapons systems, missile defense systems that we develop in the United States. In other cases, we’re co-developing those systems, as you mentioned, with the Japanese.

So I think it’s across the board. And you can also – one area I’d like to see that we really didn’t hit enough, probably and I think that Ron Kadish alluded to it, we are the beneficiaries of a lot of years of R&D and science and technology investment. That’s what allowed us to begin to roll out systems like Aegis and THAAD and GMD and the sensors. We’ve got to make sure we don’t lose that. We got to continue to invest in that technology as we turn to directed energy types of weapons and other things that Pat alluded to.

And I think that’s an area, internationally, where we can work out arrangements for investment to look at, further up on the front end of that, how can they join us in that endeavor.

LT. GEN. KADISH: I’ll be a little bit provocative here. It’s all going to come down to money.


LT. GEN. KADISH: You know, the wheels of cooperation tend to spin around the axle of money. So there will have to be some thought processes by all our partners, including the U.S., over just how much of our resources we want to put against this. And I think that will wax and wane, depending on the threat and the geopolitical situation we face, but on balance, will be acceptable to everyone. And I remember going back, where – even in the SDIO and BMDO days, we were spending $3 maybe $3.5 billion a year on these types of technologies. And with MDA, we jumped to $10 and now we’re down to $7. And then, the rest of the world, in order to make this type of activity work, will have to come to some agreement on what we’re going to spend.

So that’s one of the issues, I think, that faces the whole community going forward. And we got to make the right decisions there.

MR. BRZEZINSKI: Let me open up to the floor here, just ask – when I give you the floor, just give us your name, your affiliation, and if you have a point or a comment, keep it brief. Dean.

Q: Let me just ask my question to all three of you. What do you think is the greatest impediment to developing an effective missile defense system or architecture? Could be politics, could be economics, could be technology, I’d love to hear your views.

LT. GEN. KADISH: All of the above. (Laughter.)

LT. GEN. O’REILLY: Yeah, I was going to say, that’s why, as General Kadish said, that’s why this organization was put together, and not only just the organization, but I also – it’s probably not as well known, but General Kadish and General Obering helped work and set up an oversight structure, where all the stakeholders in the Department of Defense and State and other, the White House, and other critical organizations were able to, at least in my tenure, provide great oversight and come to those agreements that you have to make, and those trades that you have to make, and set the priorities, so that these technologies were able to be matured and delivered the way they were.

So it’s not just so a matter of the resources, absolutely, the technology, and so forth, but also even the government mechanisms above MDA, which were put into place, that really had a – I can remember debates where it was, you know, senior powerful people opposing some – or advocating some positions. And they were settled in a room because of an innovative approach to having leadership get together and sort this out, including State Department and others.

So I think, as General Kadish said, it requires all of this to come together and to point one out, any one of them could be a fatal shortcoming. So you need it all and you need the mechanism. And the support from Congress has been fairly straight. You know things get debated and so forth, but I personally didn’t see a bipartisan, you know, one for missile defense and one against. They always have their issues about how they’re going to accomplish it. And I’m seeing the same internationally, as we deal with the governments overseas.

LT. GEN. KADISH: You used a critical – sorry to interrupt, you used the critical word, “effective,” okay? I think that’s where the debate will always be as to what the perception of the effectiveness is. And that’s, as Pat pointed out, that’s a political dimension to it, a military dimension to it, a technical dimension to it, a budgetary dimension to it. And those answers need to be coordinated. So it goes back to the unprecedented nature of the technology.

LT. GEN. OBERING: One thing I would say is – and I agree with both Pat and Ron – I would emphasize one aspect of it, though, and that is, at least in my tenure, you have to have a viable technical foundation. If you – if there’s no one convinced that you can even do this, then you’re not going to get the policy changes. You’re not going to get the budget support. You’re not going to get the cooperation. It’s not going to happen.

So there’s a minimum threshold that you’ve got to reach on any unprecedented capability to show that you can, in fact, have a reasonable chance of achieving that threshold. And once you built that – and that’s actually how SDIO and BMDO evolved – is very early on, it was nothing more than very early research and development and basic research and science and technology. But once we got to the point where all those things came together with respect to processing speed, sensor technology, manufacturing ability, et cetera, and we crossed that threshold in the early 2000s, where we actually began to demonstrate with consistency that we could hit that with THAAD, we could hit SM-3, we could hit with the GBI. It began to change the nature of the argument.

And then – and then there’s one you didn’t mention, that’s probably the strongest, and that’s culture. If you don’t change the culture, it’s very difficult to continue the momentum. And I think what I’ve seen happen, since I’ve been – (inaudible) – the culture’s now beginning to change, that this is doable, it’s worthwhile. It’s worthwhile to pursue, and you’re seeing the nation, I then get behind that.

MR. BRZEZINSKI: Talal (sp).

Q: If this was asked in previous panels, I apologize. For any of you gentlemen, aside from trying to mess up Ukraine, the Russians are suspected of violating my favorite arms control treaty, which is the INF treaty. How serious are those allegations? How worried should Washington be? And at least, from a missile defense perspective, what should the response be?

LT. GEN. O’REILLY: I don’t have insight into the intelligence. Those events that they’re referring to that we heard about today and so forth have occurred over the last year. And all of us have been kind of out of it. But I would say, I’ve made this comment many times, that the missile defense system doesn’t really care, you know, what the political stripe was of the missile being launched. I think you have to have some aspect of active defense. And that’s one of, I believe, missile defense from a geopolitical point of view, is that instead of making assumptions and being, you know, steering you towards preemptive activities and so forth, you actually have options that you otherwise wouldn’t have in order to understand these situations more.

And another – the president and the commanders have options and an ability to diffuse situations, look at few situations in a way that without it, it would be much more threatening and much more perilous.

LT. GEN. KADISH: Just to go one step further, for years, we’ve had a debate with the Russian Federation and their legacy about missile defense and its effectiveness. But to Pat’s point, we never architected the system because geography counts in missile defense in the deployment structure. We never, at least from the policy standpoint or programmatic standpoint, did anything specifically against the Russian Federation, from a defense standpoint.

Now, a lot of critics didn’t like that approach, but we were after very specific sets of threats that were basically in the row category to give us the options that Pat talked about. Our national command authorities have more flexibility to deal with situations. And I think we’ve actually seen that in response to North Korea and, I’m sure as we go forward, with Iran. But it would take the political will and the strategic framework for us to change that.

And when you ask what our policy should be, that’s a little bit out of my league in terms of I might have an opinion, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to make it anything other than a personal one.

LT. GEN. OBERING: And I will say, since I was at the forefront of briefing NATO and Briefing the NATO-Russia Council on our initial deployment concepts to Europe, we did bent over backwards to be transparent with the Russians.

Pat knows – Pat went to Russia several times at my request to look at ways that we could cooperate on sensor sharing, data sharing, transparency with respect to what we were doing in Poland and the Czech Republic. And frankly, none of that ever panned out. And my personal opinion is the Russians are very bright. And they understand that the system is not aimed at them. I think it’s more geopolitical than it is military or technical when it comes to missile defense.


Q: This question is for the three of you, gentlemen. I’m Peter Huessy with the Air Force Association. The Canadian Armed Services Committee had a hearing just this week about whether the United States or that Canada should kind of join with us in our missile defense efforts, particularly what you used to call NMD. A former general officer retired made three points to the committee – said that the tests are rigged in the United States, that you can’t tell the difference between decoys and warheads, and that if any ballistic missile of that kind of range is aimed at the United States, we’ll always know what country it comes from. I’d like your response, for the record, as to those points.

LT. GEN. KADISH: It sounds like I’m back in 1998. (Laughter.) That’s all I have to say. (Laughter.)

LT. GEN. O’REILLY: I can definitely tell you if they were rigged, we wouldn’t be failing when we do fail. And having – as Admiral Winnefeld said this morning, I again thought he was very perceptive when he made the point that the decoys are not as easy as you see on cartoons or projections. You’re talking about very violent, you know, launch, and then you deploy something that’s extremely lightweight, and no movements around it. Then, it flies a perfect formation for 25 minutes or something. I mean, you start looking – I can tell you, having tried to do that, how very, very, very, very difficult that is.

So the good news is, I believe, because even on my tenure there was some interaction with the Canadians, is that I don’t think he speaks for a very large majority. But as was said up here, we’ve seen that historically, where we have to present pretty much the same facts every time. And people come to the conclusion, draw their own conclusions of where we really are with the state of the art. And it has really come a long way when you look back, like I have, for 25 years. And it’s a very, very compelling argument that this is a real capability. Unfortunately, you can look at arsenals and see the threats are there and they’re enduring. And I don’t believe – I think you could benefit greatly by more of our exposure of what the facts actually are in the history.

LT. GEN. OBERING: The only thing I’ll add is I can say without a doubt and without any reservation whatsoever, none of the tests under my watch were rigged, ever. And I know that to be the case with Ron or with Pat as well. That’s just not the case. Number one.

Number two, this goes back to something Pat said. So let’s assume that what he meant by the last remark was that we would know where it came from and we could retaliate, right? What do you tell the people who died in the initial impact?

MR. BRZEZINSKI: I think this gentleman right here.

LT. GEN. KADISH: When you could have had an answer to it.

Q: I had two incoming missiles there for a second with microphones. My question has to do with testing, especially with GBI. It appears that the ICBM threat from North Korea, Iran, has actually developed more slowly than we had originally anticipated. I think, you know, North Korea is probably at least three to five years from having a viable operational ICBM. Why are we not testing? I mean, really putting GBI through its paces. I know it’s expensive. There’s a political cost to fail tests, which leaves me a little perplex, because, as you said, failure is where you really learn the limitations of your system and you really take – you can take advantage to improve it on a much greater level than even successes.

Any of you or all of you’d like to respond to why we don’t test more thoroughly the GBI system? We do with THAAD. We do with SM-3. Is it just purely money?

MR. BRZEZINSKI: Let me throw on an additional dimension to that question. One of the lessons – because I think you all in your tenures touched on GBI and its evolution one way or the other. What are the lessons learned from GBI’s experience? Should we start with Ron?

LT. GEN. KADISH: Well, it’s interesting as I listen to your question, you said that North Korea is three to five years away. I’ve been hearing that since I got in this business, in 1998. And they surprised us in, what was it, 1998, by flying over Japan. I don’t – I don’t have any access to intelligence or anything like that, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves that our any potential adversary is – that we have knowledge enough to know exactly what their capability is. So to that extent, there’s a sense of urgency and I don’t know why is this, no matter what.

In terms of the GBI, it’s – I’ll just go back in history. When we started looking at hit-to-kill, the only system we really had, other than THAAD, against shorter-range missiles and Patriot was this prototype system called, at the time, NMD. We latter had a contract. And they put it together as a prototyping effort. And I think it was the first shot that actually worked. And – to the surprise of many folks, by the way – and that was a time in which we were looking at a deployment decision because of the North Korean threat, that if we had two out of three successes, we’d actually deploy the system. And that scared me because I know it was a prototype. And deploying a system of that nature would be very difficult.

And so we were on the cusp of a deployment system on a prototype effort because of the threat in the late ’90s. I guess that’s my point. In terms of testing, when we went to the Missile Defense Agency construct, what we were able to do because of the maturity of the technology at the time was that we would put a test bed together in the Alaskan missile field that would be a test bed for the actual equipment from sensors to the interceptor, but provided a limited capability operationally against North Korean threat. And that’s the way the system has evolved since then.

And so testing frequency and all those things are all a function of failures that we had and some successes. By the way, we actually learned some things out of our successes. And has culminated into the testing frequency now. The only comment I would make about our current situation is that these are very complex, expensive tests. And you guys know this as well as anyone and that. And so you couldn’t do them like we did in the ’50s, where you shoot every other week to see what you learn in terms of our offensive capability.

LT. GEN. OBERING: So when I was there, as I said, the first two failures, we stood down, went through the entire system. And then we lost in ’06, ’07, ’08, all successes. The reason that we couldn’t launch any faster than once a year, frankly, was by the time we collected all of the data from the test, by the time we analyzed all the data from the test, by the time we made any modifications we needed to make to the system overall, not just the interceptor, you couldn’t do it much faster than once a year in that regard.

And to your point, these are very expensive tests. You’re looking at – there’s a scale difference between a GBI and an SM-3, for example. GBI is 60 feet long, 50 something inches wide. SM-3 is 18 feet, 13.5 inches wide. It’s a different scale, different ranges involved, both the target missile, as well as interceptor itself. Many more components involved in the testing. So there is a huge budget component to this.

There was a time when, frankly, money to the program for GBI – or GMD, in particular, was cut dramatically. That was partly the nation set, and that elongated, I think, some of the testing and test periods that you have. I’m certainly a fan of testing as often as we can and as robustly as you can within the confines – obviously the budget limitations that we face.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY: And I would just like to follow up along the same line of the other directors. It’s hard to get a full good perspective of just how complex and herculean these tests really are. We’re talking about, usually, a quarter of the planet earth is involved in one way or the other, the safety and so forth. But every aspect of it, I’ve been responsible for the other programs you mentioned, there’re several, several orders of magnitude easier. And the worst thing that could happen is you conduct one of these large tests and you don’t learn what you need to learn in cases of failure.

And so just our communication systems that we have are mindboggling, the range assets. Just to give you one more perspective, the targets we are shooting. I mean, we’re asked to build ICBMs, not as other countries trying to build ICBMs, but just to be the target. We have to go develop ICBMs. These are tremendously complex, very, very difficult tests that we probably couldn’t have done even 15 years ago, just without the data processing and all the state of the art what we use today. So it’s a great capability, but we want to make sure – and the terabytes, literally terabytes of data that come down, 50, 60 companies involved, when you get all the suppliers involved and everything, operational tests with real soldiers on it, real commands involved. You have to make sure you’ve learned what you need to learn from that test before you attempt the next test.

And so just – I don’t think it’s any type of delay on anyone’s part. I used to look at it like a duck. You know, you look at a duck and it’s sitting there calmly in the water. You look at its feet underneath the water, and it’s going 1,000 miles an hour. And that’s how that team works. It is a very, very difficult test to accelerate it with all the risks involved and everything you’re trying to learn.

So I don’t think there’s a lack of urgency, even though it may appear. It’s just the thoroughness that’s required.

MR. BRZEZINSKI: One question in the back.

Q: Thank you. Tom Collina, Arms Control Association. Thank you all for being here, for the Atlantic Council for putting this on. My question goes to current Missile Defense Agency policy. And as you all probably know, the agency is initiating a program to redesign the Kill Vehicle going forward, over the next few years, in part because, as you said, General Kadish, the current Kill Vehicle was a prototype and in many ways remains to be a prototype. And so I think the agency is now saying, let’s design this thing from the ground up and do a non-prototype version.

At the same time, we’re expecting a test very soon, Admiral Winnefeld said this morning, of the CE-II, which of course is the prototype system that we have fielded right now. And if successful, then we’ll deploy or the Pentagon will deploy 14 additional interceptors with the CE-II. So my question for the three of you, if you could, is it makes sense that once we’ve decided to redesign the Kill Vehicle, does it make sense to go ahead and deploy more versions of the existing prototype Kill Vehicle, or should we wait for the new design to come along? Thank you.

LT. GEN. OBERING: I’ll address that. First of all, to answer your question directly, yes, I do believe that there are things that can be done to the existing prototype kill vehicle that would make it much more effective, at least for a portion of the fleet that’s out there. And I think it’s prudent and it’s important for the agency to do that, because that will immediately affect the overall effectiveness of the fleet in terms of any surprises that we may get in the threat or whatever.

I also think it’s critical that they do the new improved version overall because let’s think about it. Not only were we – and we recognize this. These are prototypes that we were going to improve over time. This is 1980s technology in many cases, especially thinking of the advances that we’ve made just in the last five years.

And so I think it’s important that we take advantage, as I stated before. We were beneficiaries of a lot of investment, back in the ’80s and ’90s. We need to make sure that we make that next turn. And we take advantage of all of the improvements that are made, not the least of which is in manufacturability and how much that can reduce the cost and how much that can improve our ability of the overall vehicle. So I think it’s important to do it in the two-phased effort.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY: And if I could, again, Admiral Winnefeld this morning brought up the point that I think as he called it, quality has its own quantity. He flipped the old saying. And the point is that as the technologies have moved forward, since – as Trey said, since the 1980s, it’s not just the sensors and the processors, and so forth. As he said, the manufacturability, which goes directly to the design architecture and the reliability of these systems. And if you were going to design it today, just like I was responsible for the second generation of THAAD, we looked at the original one, and that was in the ’90s. And we were able to make a significant leap forward in manufacture and reliability, which I think is paying off in huge dividends now for THAAD, 11 out of 11 intercepts.

But that was just 10 years. And what we’re looking about or looking at is bringing forward 20 years in manufacturing reliability. Unfortunately your last point, why don’t we just stop and wait for the new one to come, unfortunately, the timelines are out there, are long in any type of this type of development. And the threat won’t wait. And the threat is this system that limited defenses is focused on emerging North Korean threat or subsequently one from Iran. Unfortunately, they won’t cooperate. And so there won’t be a break. And I don’t mean to be facetious. I’m just saying, oh, we have a responsibility to take, you know, and ensure we have a continuum of protection. But I think there is an open door here for significant, in the future, as the program moves forward, upgrades or refreshment, whatever you want to call it, several strategies to bring the fleet forward to modern or today’s state of the art manufacturing.

LT. GEN. KADISH: I’d just emphasize that point is that from day one of the GBI kind of concept, the test bed I’ve mentioned, we always envisioned an evolutionary approach to this. And in fact, if you go back to the AKV, we started the Miniature Kill Vehicle program that, at one point, learned – always knowing that we would have to evolutionary evolve these systems. And I think that’s the course we’re on. And to Pat’s point, we have a threat out there and we should make our equipment as good as we can in an evolutionary way, on towards the goal where these new technologies take the next quantum step in our capability.

MR. BRZEZINSKI: As we’re approaching the close of this session, I want to throw out one question to our three speakers and also give you an opportunity to add any other points you want to make. And the question relates to MDA’s relationship, U.S. government’s relationship with defense industry. Clearly this has been a successful relationship. The fact that we’ve gone from vision to reality in hit-to-kill and we actually have missile defense systems that work, that relationship has got some signs of real health in it.

From your experience, what can be done – you share my assessment in this relationship, is MDA’s relationship with the defense industry strong and robust and productive? And what can be done to make it even stronger and more productive, based on your experience?

LT. GEN. KADISH: Let me start. First of all, we talk about the Missile Defense Agency. The agency doesn’t make anything. And I think that’s important to – the agency is a coordination, requirements, budgetary authority that directs our industrial base. And without that tight set of trust and confidence between industry and this government agency called Missile Defense Agency, it won’t work. In fact, part of the effort here is to bring as much as the industry in as possible to solve these technical problems because no one company has all the intellectual capital to do so. So without the industry element of this, we would be an abject failure. And that relationship is important to not only maintain, but to strengthen. And I think all of the aspects that I watch that is a continuing effort and going on very successfully.

LT. GEN. OBERING: What I would add is it is absolutely critical, following Ron’s point, that you open – that you open and you keep open the channels of communication between the government and industry, so that you understand – they understand what your expectations are. You understand what their capability, and more importantly, limitations are. And that you have that open exchange and an open communication. And that you don’t just try to communicate through a contract and that’s it, because I think that’s where you begin to get in trouble and you get the disconnects in expectations and what you’re getting.

And I think it’s important that, as part of that communication, that there is clarity of accountability and who’s accountable for what on both sides of the equation. And I think that leads for a very healthy relationship between government and industry.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY: I would just like to follow on that I think that’s been one of the stellar points of the Missile Defense Agency and its predecessors. Right from the beginning, General James Abrahamson, he set up the approach that this is such a daunting technical and all the other aspects challenge. There is no way we’re going to be successful unless we’re working closely, honestly, and just as productively as possible with industry. They’re the muscle. They’re the ones who are going to deliver. And he set that tone in the agency, back eight, nine directors ago. And that culture, that aspect of the culture, I think has remained. And it has been key. All of us, more than once, the door shut and we got a problem. It’s not you have a problem or MDA has a problem. We have a problem. And that’s how we’ve been able to face those challenges successfully. And especially when, you know, some of these tough businesses, you have two or three failures before you become successful.

But why did everybody hang in there and why is it thriving today? I believe it’s that culture that was started by General Abrahamson that every director since has realized that we wouldn’t be successful without. And industry, on their part has been cooperative, and not only cooperative, but an excellent partner and fully internalizes that. And it’s now grown, under these two gentlemen next to me, on the international scale.

And while I was working with the SM-3 IIA program, the Japanese were clear indication of that culture has now spread to our international partners and international industry. And I think it’s the culture that’s required to be successful.

MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, thank you very much. I mean, I can say when I think about military capabilities, there really, in my mind, is no more demanding challenge than trying to create the ability of hit-to-kill in missile defense. And when you look at the history of MDA, it is a history full of failures. But failure does not mean incompetence. Failure, as these gentlemen pointed out, can be built upon and you can yield successes. And that’s why we have a hit-to-kill capability today and a viable missile defense system.

It is also a demonstration of how sometimes in government, some autonomy and budgetary autonomy and authority can actually yield results. I think that’s been the history of MDA. And of course, leadership counts. And I want to thank these three leaders for their contributions in the military, Missile Defense Agency, and for sharing their time and expertise in how a vision became a reality.

LT. GEN. OBERING: Ian, if I may, in keeping with the three directors, I would just like to say that I believe that Admiral James Syring, who’s the current director of the agency, is doing a fantastic job in a very difficult and tough job environment. And I think his leadership and the direction the agency is on today is just outstanding and I’m very appreciative of that.

MR. BRZEZINSKI: I want to thank you, gentlemen.


Related Experts: Ian Brzezinski and Patrick O’Reilly