Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, United States

Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, United States


The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), the successor to the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization in the United States Department of Defense, develops systems to detect, track, and destroy ballistic missiles. Working in collaboration with all of the U.S. military departments, all federal agencies, the private sector, and major research institutions, BMDOs use the most current advanced technologies to develop layered defenses that employ complementary sensors and weapons to eliminate threatening missiles in the boost, midcourse, and terminal phases of flight.

BMDO began on May 13, 1993 in the wake of a congressional ban on the deployment of space-based weapons. The collapse of the former Soviet Union had made a global attack upon the U.S. appear much less likely and Congress sought to push the Department of Defense to update missile defense programs to address the dangers of the post-Cold War world. In this changed political climate, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin announced that former President Ronald Reagan's ten-year old Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly known as "Star Wars") would be terminated with missile defense responsibilities transferred to the newly formed BMDO. At this time Aspin also changed the missile defense priorities of the United States, ordering the BMDO to focus on theater missile defense, the protection of U.S. forces deployed overseas, as well as the guarding of allies and friends. National missile defense, the protection of the U.S. from deliberate, accidental, or unauthorized limited ballistic missile attacks, would officially become a secondary priority. At the end of the decade, priorities again shifted in response to the growing threat posed by the spread of ballistic missile technology to perceived non-deterrable countries like Iraq and North Korea. Theater missile defense and national missile defense would subsequently receive equal attention as part of an integrated system of research, development, and testing programs.

To provide defense, BMDO developed a two-tier architecture system designed to intercept missiles as far away as possible from protected areas. The system is based on a hit-to-kill technology that sends a U.S. missile to destroy an enemy missile by crashing directly into it. The upper tier, named Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), provides a wide area defense including coverage of dispersed assets and population centers. After receiving target identification and guidance information from radar, THAAD intercepts missiles either outside the atmosphere or high in the atmosphere. If the radar and operations center determines that the target has not been destroyed, then the Theater Missile Defense-Ground Based Radar (TMD-GBR) cues a lower tier system, named Patriot PAC-3, to engage the missiles that have evaded THAAD. Patriot PAC-3, an Army-run lower-tier system established in 1999 as an upgrade of the PATRIOT system, includes radar, a communications capability, and a command and control system. Navy Area Defends (NAD), a sea-based, lower-tier system upgrade of the Aegis air defense system that is the Navy's equivalent of PAC-3, will intercept missiles aimed at naval targets.

Research and testing consume the bulk of the BMDO's operating budget. It has focused on the development of kinetic and directed energy weapons such as high-energy lasers and particle-beam systems for potential sea-, ground-, air-, and space-based operations. It also bears responsibility for the creation of sensors to detect a launch, track the thruster booster of a missile through space and the atmosphere, distinguish actual warheads from decoys, and deliver this information to the battle management. It is this latter research that has been shared with the commercial scientific and technological communities. As mandated by law, the BMDO attempts to transfer its technical knowledge to U.S. companies to benefit the national economy. The BMDO Technology Applications program distributes antimissile defense technologies, such as sensors, lasers, and materials, to commercial markets in the non-defense public and private sectors.

The technology transfer program has been among the BMDO's greatest successes. The intercept of missiles with THAAD has proved enormously difficult as well as costly, but blame for the high failure rate has been placed by the Department of Defense military contractors instead of the BMDO system designers. The growing threat from foreign missiles means that the organization will likely continue to receive strong governmental support because the development of a defense system to engage all classes and ranges of ballistic missile remains an urgent need.



Handberg, Roger. Ballistic Missile Defense and the Future of American Security: Agendas, Perceptions, Technology and Policy. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

Naveh, Ben-Zin and Azrid Lorber, eds. Theater Ballistic Mh2le Defense. Reston, VA: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 2002

United States General Accounting Office National Security and International Affairs Division. Ballistic Missile Defense: Evolution and Current Issues. Washington, D.C.: United States General Accounting Office, 1993.

Werrell, Kenneth P. Hitting a Bullet with a Bullet: A History of Ballistic Missile Defense. Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 2000.

This modified Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in the U.S., was intercepted by a prototype interceptor over the Pacific Ocean in 2001. ©REUTERS NEWMEDIA INC./CORBIS.
This modified Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in the U.S., was intercepted by a prototype interceptor over the Pacific Ocean in 2001. ©


Aviation Intelligence, History
DOD (United States Department of Defense)
Strategic Defense Initiative and National Missile Defense

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