Masterpiece Theater: Missed Opportunities for Missile Defense in the 2020 Budget
(Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies; issued March 29, 2019)
Just over a year ago, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan announced that the 2020 defense budget would be the “masterpiece” that would finally align Pentagon spending with the new direction of the National Defense Strategy.1

The release of the new budget follows the January 2019 release of the Missile Defense Review, which laid out the administration’s vision of how U.S. missile defense policy, programs, and posture should be adapted to contend with more challenging missile threats in an era of great power competition.2

At the review’s release, President Trump declared the “beginning of a new era in our missile defense program,” setting a goal to “detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States—anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”3

Unfortunately, neither the modest language of the Missile Defense Review nor the activities and funding levels in the proposed 2020 budget come anywhere close to achieving that goal. They specifically lack the programmatic and budgetary muscle movements to contribute meaningfully to overall U.S. deterrence and defense goals in relation to Russia and China.

The Missile Defense Review nominally widens the scope of missile defense policy from a focus on ballistic missiles to countering the full spectrum of missile threats. Yet these new policy and budget proposals remain remarkably consistent with the program of record that preexisted the National Defense Strategy. Apart from steps within the services for incremental improvements to air defenses and some studies on countering hypersonic glide vehicles, the focus remains on the limited ballistic missile threats posed by otherwise weak rogue regimes.

Too little attention is given to the threat of complex and integrated missile attacks from major powers like Russia and China.

Shortcomings of the 2020 proposal include:
-- Low funding levels for a space-based sensor layer, primarily confined to the repetition of past studies, and its relocation to the Space Development Agency;

-- A declining topline for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA);

-- Insufficient research and development of advanced technology, with continued decline in future years;

-- Nearly non-existent adaptation of the current interceptor families or new interceptor development to counter more advanced missile threats; and

-- The apparent decision to significantly delay development of volume kill capability.


Click here for the full report (15 PDF pages) on the CSIS website.

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