Amid growing perceived threats from the fast modernising arsenals of nuclear capable intercontinental range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) fielded by China, Russia and North Korea, the U.S. is reportedly planning to invest in the acquisition of 21 Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) surface to air missiles designed to defend the American mainland from such attacks. The new missile defence system is expected to replace the ageing Ground-based Midcourse Defence (GMD) system, although the immense cost of the program at a time of economic crisis and increasingly strained budgets has led to growing questions regarding whether it is an effective investment. Each enemy ICBM is expected to require three NGI missiles to intercept it – potentially more for a more advanced ICBM with decoys or a manoeuvrable warhead some of which may be impossible to intercept altogether. Against China or Russia, therefore, this capability may be effetely useless, while even the much smaller but increasingly sophisticated arsenal of North Korea would very likely be able to bypass these defences today – let alone by thee time the NGI is actually deployed by which time the Korean intercontinental range strike capability is expected to be much larger and more advanced.
A report from Bloomberg estimated that the NGI missiles will cost a tremendous $498 million each, with the total program cost which would bring the size of the arsenal up two a few dozen expect to cost $17.7 billion when including R&D and sustainment costs. The program is expected to see up to 31 interceptors built, with 21 starting to be deployed operationally by 2028 and the remaining 10 of set aside for tests. With U.S. adversaries expected to field growing numbers of hypersonic strategic missiles over the coming decade, the NGI will almost certainly be overwhelmingly outmatched before it is even deployed. The fact that ICBMs come at a very small fraction of the cost of the interceptors bodes ill for America’s ability to defend its airspace even against smaller attacks. The alternative to the program, however, could be retiring GMD without replacement. This may be seen as politically unfeasible considering growing perceptions of an ICBM threat from North Korea in particular – with which the United States remains technically at war.