Both Russia and China have adopted a strategy threatening the use of very limited nuclear strikes against the United States even against our mainland, most probably in the pursuit of regional security objectives such as a conventional conflict in Eastern Europe in the case of Russia or Taiwan in the case of China.
This is different than the most common nuclear threats we faced during the Cold War which was having to stop the use of large-scale nuclear weapons as part of, for example, a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.
Thus, while this new nuclear threat needs to be addressed, it will require a two-step process, with both greater numbers of missile interceptors than we now have, but also with more capable and geographically dispersed interceptors coupled with space-based sensors that can quickly acquire and track adversary missile launches. Doing so enables interceptors to destroy missiles in boost phase before multiple warheads can be deployed.
Exactly what role then should our legacy systems play? Forty-four deployed interceptors are now 15 years old, and are now in silos in Alaska and California, and to defend the United States from long-range missiles, whether limited, unauthorized or accidental strikes from such nuclear-armed countries as China, Russia, and North Korea.
Complementing such capability are over 1,200 interceptors deployed overseas by the United States and its allies aboard Navy Aegis cruisers, land-based THAAD and Patriot regional missile defense batteries but capable of defeating only medium- and short-range missile threats.
Although the current kill vehicle used on the Alaskan interceptors has been successful in 5/8 of the latest tests, the defense department has opted to pursue a totally new kill vehicle, which will deal with new threats such as multiple warheads or decoys or heightened hypersonic speeds. This has unfortunately delayed the previously planned deployment of 20 additional interceptors in Alaska, as there is no new kill vehicle available.
One option is to use the existing kill vehicle for the new missiles. Although there are some technological deficiencies in the kill vehicle, they could be fixed. And with 20 new missiles, our deterrent capability expands, particularly helpful in the face of both North Korea and Chinese nuclear upgrades.