New Focus Needed On ‘Missile Defeat,’ U.S. Army Official Says

Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler

Credit: U.S. Army

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama—The Pentagon needs a new way to coordinate and advocate for “missile defeat”—the ability to take out enemy missiles and launchers before launch—to reduce the requirement on active missile defenses, and U.S. Space Command should be in charge, the U.S. Army’s top missile defense official says.

While there is extensive focus on missile defense—the ability to detect, track and kill a long-range missile from launch—there is much less coordination on what is done “left of launch,” says Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, commander of Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC). There needs to be a singular official in charge of how to deny, disrupt or destroy an enemy’s capability before launch, he said.

Karbler argues there needs to be an entity charged with coordinating across all combatant commands, other government agencies and international allies and partners to find the best way to target. For example, having a coordinator decide that a target could be taken out by U.S. Cyber Command or U.S. Special Operations Command, to say “we’ve got this challenge, let’s work together to get missile defeat ... [and] perhaps alleviate some of the demand on active defense interceptors,” he says. 

SMDC practiced this approach recently as part of U.S. Space Command’s Space Sentry 2023 exercise, using a commander in charge of missile defeat to advocate for specific targets as part of the development process. 

The exercise was a start, but the real work will be to identify processes and structures required across the Pentagon, other agencies and international partners, Karbler said during the Space & Missile Defense Symposium here. 

The Unified Command Plan from 2019 that created U.S. Space Command also charged it with transregional missile defense, making it a natural fit to take on the role, Karbler argues. The Pentagon has also charged John Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy, with forming missile defeat policy, meaning there would be close coordination with Space Command on the issue, he says.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.