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The Missile Defense Agency is an agency of the United States Department of Defense. It traces its origins to before the end of the Cold War, when the US greatly feared nuclear missile attacks from the USSR. Although it has gone through some changes along the way, the agency’s purpose still revolves around the research, development, and testing of various missile defense programs. The goal is to develop an impenetrable defense of the United States from any form of missile attack. Its relevance and success in accuracy have been questioned.


The agency has its origins from the Strategic Defense Initiative which was established in 1983. The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization was set up in 1984 within the United States Department of Defense to oversee the Strategic Defense Initiative proposed by President Ronald Reagan. It gained the popular name Star Wars after the 1977 movie by George Lucas. Under the administration of President Bill Clinton in 1993, its name was changed to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) and its emphasis was shifted from national missile defense to theater missile defense; from global to regional coverage.  In 2002, the BMDO was renamed the Missile Defense Agency.


What it Does  

The stated purpose of the MDA is to develop and field a Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) to defend the United States, its deployed forces, friends and allies against ballistic missiles of all ranges in all phases of flight. The goals include improvement of the depth, range and reliability of defenses and the provision of options to address uncertainty and surprise in the future. For more than four decades, engineers have been developing and testing variations of a missile defense shield to protect U.S. cities from nuclear combat. Site locations for the MDA include Huntsville, Alabama, Washington, DC, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Fort Greely, Alaska. When speaking of a layered defense, the MDA is referring to the different levels and stages in which it has the opportunity to kill an enemy missile. When a missile goes through flight, it goes through three basic phases. It begins with a boost or power, phase. Then it coasts during the mid-course phase, followed by the terminal phase, which is usually re-entry into the atmosphere. What the MDA wants to do is to build defenses in each one of those phases in an integrated, layered fashion.
The GBI is a weapon of the National Missile Defense (NMD) system. Its mission is to intercept incoming ballistic missile warheads outside the earth’s atmosphere and destroy them by force of impact. Boeing is the prime contractor for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense Program.
The Sea-Based X-Band Radar is a combination of advanced X-band radar with a mobile, ocean-going, semi-submersible platform that provides the Ballistic Missile Defense System with powerful and capable radar that can be positioned to cover any part of the globe. Raytheon Company was awarded a $32.7 million subcontract in January 2007 to provide sustainment support for the X- Band Radar (XBR) portion of the Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX). The award was made by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.
Aegis BMD
Aegis BMD (also know as Sea-Based Midcourse) is designed to intercept ballistic missiles post-boost phase and prior to reentry. The MDA gave Lockheed Martin a $40.4 million contract to provide ballistic missile defense capability to a Japanese Aegis-equipped destroyer. (January 2008) The Aegis Weapon System is deployed on 85 ships around the world with more than 20 additional ships planned or under contract.
Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
The THAAD is planned to be the only missile made that could destroy a target in or out of the earth’s atmosphere. The THAAD program began flight testing in November 2005.  According to Lockheed Martin, there have been three successful THAAD tests, including the “intercept of a unitary target” in July 2006.  They claim that in 2007 the first flight test demonstrated THAAD’s ability to “intercept a threat representative target in the high endo-atmosphere.” According to the Lockheed Martin’s website,destroying warheads in the terminal phase does not eliminate all problems or challenges. While it is might prove true that in a few years three THAAD systems can provide area defense for the entire West Coast, some debris from a destroyed missile warhead will hit the ground. This means missile interception does not necessarily eliminate the threat from the debris, particularly if a destroyed warhead contains residue of weapons of mass destruction. We must assume the incoming debris creates a consequence management problem. Chemical weapons are normally rendered impotent by heat or widely dispersed so they do not pose a major threat, but nuclear materials and agents, such as anthrax, can pose a lingering challenge to first responders. Orbital Sciences Corporation was selected for this $19 million target launch vehicle contract in November 2003.
THAAD TMD (Federation of American Scientists)
Space Tracking Surveillance System (STSS)
This system consists of a series of interoperable, low-earth orbit satellites and supporting ground equipment for the detection and tracking of ballistic missiles. Data from STSS will be used to allow the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) interceptors to engage ballistic missiles earlier in flight and pick out the warhead of an incoming missile from other nearby objects such as decoys. As the prime contractor for the STSS program, Northrop Grumman was previously awarded an $868 million contract from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to begin development of the STSS system. In 2002 Northrop Grumman subcontracted out to Raytheon Corporation in order to make preparations to provide the primary sensor payload for the Space Tracking and Surveillance System. Both companies have signed a contract valued at approximately $200 million for the delivery of sensor payload.
Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI)
KEI is designed to destroy enemy ballistic missiles during their boost, ascent and midcourse phases of flight. KEI is a mobile, land-based missile-defense system that, when deployed, will be able to destroy a threat during its boost, ascent or midcourse phase of flight. Northrop Grumman won the bid for developing and testing this capability
Multiple Kill Vehicle Program (MKV) 
"Kill Vehicles" are intended to destroy their targets by colliding with them in the midcourse of their trajectory, outside of Earth's atmosphere. They use infrared sensors to accomplish this collision. The MKV programs will receive a total of $274.2 million in 2008.  In early 2004, MDA awarded a system development contract to Lockheed Martin for the development of the Multiple Kill Vehicle program. In June 2004 Lockheed Martin subcontracted out development of the MKV program to L-3 Coleman Aerospace. The contract began as an 11-month deal for $1 million.
This element consists of multiple sensors, a complex communications system, fire control capability, and ground-based interceptors capable of intercepting intermediate and long-range ballistic missile threats in their midcourse phase of flight. Boeing will receive all of its potential bonus for its Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) missile defense work done in 2006, an amount worth $330.5 million to the company and its subcontractors. As prime contractor, Boeing is developing, testing and integrating all GMD components. Key subcontractors include Raytheon, which provides kill vehicles and radars; Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences Corp., which supply interceptor boosters; and Northrop Grumman, which provides the battle management.
High Altitude Airship

Program has been cancelled due to budget constraints. 

Lockheed-Martin was the prime contractor for the MDA’s High Altitude Airship, a stratospheric airship prototype, which would have provided persistent surveillance along with other critical capabilities.


Where Does the Money Go  

The following are the top 10 Missile Defense Agency Contractors 2001-2008:
The Boeing Company                                             $14,447,860,253
Lockheed Martin Corporation                                    $2,159,657,718
Northrop Grumman Corporation                                 $2,105,703,588
Raytheon Company                                                 $1,784,863,924
Computer Sciences Corporation                                $1,051,097,372
Sparta Inc.                                                                $599,950,798
Johns Hopkins University                                            $161,725,935
Qinetiq North America Operations                               $139,593,274
L-3 Communications Holdings, Inc.                              $132,454,080
Tetra Tech, Inc.                                                            $99,681,524

Contracts from Dept. of Defense (FY 2001-2008)



Republicans vs. Democrats
Some believe that missile defense is an area that is less supported by the Democrats and could experience budget cuts if a Democrat wins the US presidential election in 2008. The stakeholders obviously would have reason to support the Republicans, knowing that opportunity for financial and business success rests in the size of the defense budget. On the other hand, Allan Cook, chief executive of Cobham, has said there is little historical or current evidence that the Democrats spend less on defense than Republicans
Czech Base Useless in Defense of Europe
Philip Coyle, a US expert opposed to the US missile defense policy, says the anti-missile technology the US wants to locate in Europe, including on Czech soil, has not been proven capable of defending Europe or Asia from an attack by Iran or North Korea. The reason for this failure is due to ineffective protection against long-range ballistic missiles. According to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, “We want to be among those countries that will be able to benefit from the results of the U.S. military industry and some of its technologies.”  On the other hand, Slovakian Prime Minister, Robert Fico, announced, “We don't see any reason for the defense shield to move to Europe.” In January 2008 the MDA sent its director, Lt. Gen. Henry A. “Trey” Obering III, to the Czech Republic and other European states to try to convince the governments there that they would benefit from MDA presence. Yet some Eastern Europeans probably fear becoming a target for missiles attacks due to the US presence, instead of feeling protected,
Missile Defense Update #1 (Center for Defense Information)
Missile Defense Program is a Waste of Money and Resources
Some people feel that the MDA’s large budget robs the United States of funds that it needs for important real world crises. “An actual North Korean nuclear-tipped missile launch on the United States seems ‘highly unlikely,’" said Victoria Samson, a missile defense expert with the Washington-based Center for Defense Information. The budget is large and controversies have always surrounded talks of budget amendments each year. Proponents of the agency argue that safety from missile attack should be a high priority. Director of MDA General Oberland stated, “It takes time to build these missile defenses.  It takes time to develop this capability.  So we think it’s prudent to try to stay ahead of this threat.”  Opponents argue that there are other more valid threats of violence such as the events that occurred on 9/11, and that government funds could be better used for such programs as equitable education and health care.
Effectiveness Limited

John Pike, a defense expert who runs, said that based on test results, the missile-defense system seems limited. "It can't really take on decoys, and it hasn't been all that stressed in testing," Pike says. The margin for error is not measured in seconds, but

in the milliseconds, creating a difficult challenge. The Missile Defense Agency’s system has been compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet, Those within the agency feel they are proving this possibility over time, while critics argue that it is a waste of valuable time and money. Newt Gingrich criticizes skeptics for dismissing the plentitude of previously unimaginable inventions in the last 250 years. He believes this missile defense system can be effective.



As of now, the United States cannot stop a missile attack on a U.S. city, but with more research and development we could prevent such a devastating attack.
Con: There is no threat of a missile attack, and therefore money should be spent to aid in more likely attack scenarios.
Missile Defense: The Current Debate (CRS Report to Congress)
In recent Congressional testimony, MDA Director Lt. General Ronald Kadish argued that the test record for hit-to-kill missile defenses demonstrates that these missile defense systems will work, with an 88% kill rate.
The Missile Defense Debate (by Alan Shapiro, Teachable Moment)
Some say that certain problems in the success of defensive missile programs will never be solved.

The US missile defence system is the magic pudding that will never run out: Poland is just the latest fall guy for an American foreign policy dictated by military industrial lobbyists in Washington

(by George Monbiot, The Guardian)


Suggested Reforms  
Congressional Oversight  

House Armed Services Committee           

Senate Committee on Appropriations


Former Directors  

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Table of Contents

Founded: 2002 (with roots going back to 1983)
Annual Budget: $8.5 billion (2008)
Employees: 8,500+

Missile Defense Agency
O'Reilly, Patrick

Lieutenant General Patrick J. O’Reilly is only the second U.S. Army commander to lead the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which is charged with developing a viable system for protecting the United States and its interests from ballistic missile attacks. He has led the agency since November 21, 2008.

O’Reilly was born in San Jose, California, and raised as an Army brat, which included time spent in Kansas and Texas. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was commissioned in the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps. He later earned master’s degrees in physics, national security and strategic studies, and business. He is a graduate of the Command and Staff College, the U.S. Naval College of Command and Staff and the U.S. Army War College.
During his career, which has included more than a decade working in missile defense, O’Reilly has served in both command and staff officer positions in a variety of operational units including the 1st Cavalry Division, the 3rd Support Command, Germany, and as an assistant professor of physics at the Military Academy.
As an acquisition officer, he served as program manager for the Patriot PAC-3 Missile and, beginning in July 1999, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Missile system,
His next position was the Army Program Executive Officer for Combat Support and Combat Service Support, in charge of buying and maintaining wheeled vehicles. In September 2005 he took over as program director of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system.
Prior to becoming the director of MDA, O’Reilly served two years as the agency’s deputy director, beginning in January 2007.
Patrick O’Reilly Biography (Missile Defense Agency) (pdf)
Obering, Henry
Previous Director
Lieutenant General Henry A. “Trey” Obering III grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. He attended St. Barnabas Regional School and John Carroll Catholic High School. Although today he is the director of the Missile Defense Agency, he admits to having had a fear of Ferris wheels as a child. In 1973 Obering received a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Notre Dame. In 1977 he moved on to graduate from the Squadron Officer School of Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, followed by the achievement of a Master of Science degree in astronautical engineering from Stanford University in 1980. He also attended Defense Systems Management College at Fort Belvoir in 1984. In 1988 Obering graduated from Air Command and Staff College of Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, after which he completed his education in 1993 by graduating from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C.
Obering entered the Air Force in 1973 after completing the University of Notre Dame's ROTC program as a distinguished graduate. He received his pilot wings in 1975 and flew operational assignments in the F-4E. Obering was later assigned to the Space Shuttle program and participated in 15 space shuttle launches as a NASA orbiter project engineer and was responsible for integrating firing room launch operations. He became the director of MDA after his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, retired in 2004.  Before accepting his current position, Obering oversaw acquisition of Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.
In January 2008, he visited the Czech Republic to discuss plans for building a radar station in the country as a part of the US missile shield.
Interview With Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering (by Wade Boese and Miles A. Pomper, Arms Control Association)