The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) submitted its Report on Unfunded Priorities to Congress yesterday, which includes 11 projects worth $1.9 billion. The unclassified report required by law provides detailed insight into the consequences of the administration’s failure to request sufficient fiscal year (FY) 2020 funding for missile defense.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires MDA to submit a list of programs that 1) were not included in the administration’s budget request to Congress; 2) are “necessary to fulfill a requirement associated with an operational or contingency plan of a combatant command or other validated requirement”; and 3) would have been funded if additional resources were available.
In other words, the items listed in MDA’s report are missile defense priorities that combatant commanders need that were not included in the budget request.
MDA’s top unfunded priority for FY 2020 is $108 million for hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensors, known as the Space Sensor Layer (SSL). Other top unfunded priorities relate to directed energy, kill vehicle development, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors.
The budget request lacked sufficient funding for these items even though they are key priorities identified by the administration’s own 2019 Missile Defense Review (MDR). For example, the MDR noted that Russia and China are developing advanced hypersonic missile capabilities that challenge existing defenses. To address these threats, the MDR assessed, “Space-basing for sensors provides significant advantages. Such sensors take advantage of the large area viewable from space for improved tracking and potentially targeting of advanced threats, including [hypersonic glide vehicles] and hypersonic cruise missiles.”
In February, General John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, reiterated these concerns and noted, “Future space-based sensors may be able to detect, track, and discriminate hypersonic glide vehicle and ballistic missile threats globally. These abilities cannot be fully achieved with the current or any future terrestrial-based radar architecture due to the constraints of geography and characteristics of future missile threats.”
In his January remarks announcing the MDR, President Trump said, “It is not enough to merely keep pace with our adversaries; we must outpace them at every single turn. We must pursue the advanced technology and research to guarantee that the United States is always several steps ahead of those who would do us harm.”
The president continued, “My upcoming budget will invest in a space-based missile defense layer.”
Nonetheless, the administration requested less funding for MDA than last year. For FY 2020, the administration requested $9.4 billion for MDA, down from the FY 2019 requested level of $9.9 billion. However, the $9.4 billion represents more than a 10 percent cut from MDA’s FY 2019 enacted level of $10.5 billion. As a result of this decreased funding, key combatant commander needs, including full funding for SSL requirements, were left out of the budget request.
The growing missile threat to the U.S. and our allies, the findings of the 2019 MDR, the testimony of Pentagon leaders, and MDA’s Unfunded Priority Report put the burden of proof on anyone suggesting that the FY 2020 budget request for MDA is sufficient.
It is often said that budgets reflect priorities. It is difficult to imagine a higher priority than protecting Americans and our allies from a growing missile threat.
Bradley Bowman is senior director for the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Follow Bradley on Twitter at @Brad_L_Bowman. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.