There are a multitude of missile defense systems that protect against different types of ballistic missiles such as tactical ballistic missiles (TBM), intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) and inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM). A complete missile defense program includes different systems to intercept the various types of missiles. Short, medium and long range missiles have different trajectories, speeds and thermal signatures, so systems that are optimized to intercept each specific type of incoming missile are needed with the current technologies available. Examples of US missile systems include the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that fills the gap of interceptor space between the higher altitude Aegis ship-based interceptors and the lower altitude Patriot (PAC-3 version) land-based systems for regional ballistic missile threats. This provides protection against short, medium and long range missile threats using these three systems together.
These missile systems have been highlighted in much of the recent news related to North Korea. In the first week in April, the North Korean threats prompted the U.S. to announce that they are speeding up deployment of the THAAD system to Guam within weeks even though it was actually scheduled for deployment around 2015. The system is intended to defend against short- and medium-range missiles from North Korea to protect U.S. bases in the region. Additional THAAD units are already deployed in Hawaii and other continental U.S. locations.
The very next week, Japan announced that it was deploying PAC-3 batteries around Tokyo as a precaution against North Korea's nuclear threats. The PAC-3 missile launchers were positioned around the defense ministry in Tokyo and a couple of other locations around the capital. Additional batteries were also planned to be installed on Okinawa according to official reports.
Japan's defense minister also said they put Aegis destroyers with missile interception systems on alert in the Sea of Japan. The U.S. has positioned Aegis destroyers in the area also to protect against ballistic missile threats. The Aegis ballistic missile defense system integrates the SPY-1 radar, MK 41 Vertical Launching System, and SM-3 missile through a command and control system. It intercepts high altitude missiles such as ICBMs.
Looking at other countries, this past November, in response to Israel’s assassination of a Hamas military commander, Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired more than 1500 rockets at Israel. Israel was ready with their short range rocket and mortar defense system, Iron Dome, destroying a reported 85 percent of the rockets (there is, of course, some dispute over these numbers). Even if the success rate is overstated, it is an impressive system that can defend against both rockets and mortars coming in at relatively close range.
Missile defense systems have become one of the most critical elements to defense programs as a growing number of countries gain longer range missile technologies. Like the high demand of improvised explosive device (IED) defeat systems over the past decade to combat terrorist threats, I believe many nations will provide increased investment in this area to improve and field new systems. As more nations develop traditional and nuclear missile capability, these systems will be required to respond to the increasing threats from countries such as North Korea, Iran, China, Pakistan, India, etc.
After the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. is unlikely to put ground troops on foreign soil in the near future and will need to rely more on the defense of their interests using these types of systems as the threats are growing around the world. These systems make use of high performance tracking radar systems which is an opportunity for microwave companies. For example, the THAAD uses the Raytheon AN/TPY-2 X-Band ground-based radar that is a phased array with 25,344 solid-state X-Band T/R modules. That is a lot of T/R modules with a lot of MMIC devices needed for a single system. This is also an opportunity for new devices such as GaN power amplifiers to improve the range and size of these systems. Keeping abreast of these and other new programs in this area will be a key for business development executives in the near future.