Missile Defense Agency
Agency overview
FormedJanuary 2002; 22 years ago (2002-01)
Preceding agencies
JurisdictionFederal government of the United States
HeadquartersHeadquarters Command Center, Fort Belvoir, Virginia[1]
EmployeesApprox. 2500 (3000 with non-MDA support personnel) (2016)[2]
Annual budget$9.187 billion (FY 2021)[3]
Agency executives
Parent agencyDepartment of Defense

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is a component of the United States government's Department of Defense responsible for developing a comprehensive defense against ballistic missiles. It had its origins in the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) which was established in 1983 by Ronald Reagan and which was headed by Lt. General James Alan Abrahamson. Under the Strategic Defense Initiative's Innovative Sciences and Technology Office[5][6][7] headed by physicist and engineer Dr. James Ionson,[8][9][10][11] the investment was predominantly made in basic research at national laboratories, universities, and in industry. These programs have continued to be key sources of funding for top research scientists in the fields of high-energy physics, advanced materials, nuclear research, supercomputing/computation, and many other critical science and engineering disciplines—funding which indirectly supports other research work by top scientists, and which was most politically viable to fund from appropriations for national defense.[12] It was renamed the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in 1993, and then renamed the Missile Defense Agency in 2002.[13] The current director is U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Jon A. Hill.[14]

Rapid changes in the strategic environment due to the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union led, in 1993, to Bill Clinton focusing on theater ballistic missiles and similar threats, and renaming it the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, BMDO. With another change to a more global focus made by George W. Bush, in 2002 the organization became the Missile Defense Agency.

The Missile Defense Agency is partially or wholly responsible for the development of several ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems, including the Patriot PAC-3, Aegis BMD, THAAD and the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system with a cost of $194 billion.[15] They also led the development of numerous other projects, including the Multiple Kill Vehicle and the newer Multi-Object Kill Vehicle, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor and the Airborne Laser. As the inheritor of the SDI and BMDO work, the MDA continues to fund fundamental research in high-energy physics, supercomputing/computation, advanced materials, and many other science and engineering disciplines.[12]

Mission statement

THAAD Anti-ballistic missile launcher

The MDA currently publishes the following mission statement:

"The Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) mission is to develop and deploy a layered Missile Defense System to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends from missile attacks in all phases of flight."[16]

The National Defense Authorization Act is cited as the original source of the MDA's mission:

"It is the policy of the United States to maintain and improve an effective, robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States, allies, deployed forces, and capabilities against the developing and increasingly complex ballistic missile threat with funding subject to the annual authorization of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for National Missile Defense. National Defense Authorization Act (Public Law 114–328)"[16]

International mission

Arrow 3 is an exoatmospheric hypersonic anti-ballistic missile, jointly funded, developed and produced by Israel and the United States.

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems (BMDS) must be capable of operating in different regions of the world to ensure the success of the MDA mission. The International Strategy was approved by the MDA Director in 2007. The general strategy for international efforts is:[17]

Outreach: Communicate the importance of missile defense by promoting worldwide BMDS by sharing information with allies and partners.
Capability and Interoperability: Identify and integrate U.S and partner systems to create global missile defense system. Promote interoperability among allies.
Technology: Identify and evaluate possible international technology in support of BMDS capabilities.
Investment: Identify and execute investment opportunities with allies and partners.
Workforce: Shape a qualified workforce to execute the MDA International Strategy.

As of 2017 MDA was working on facilities in Germany, Romania, Poland, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.[18]

Potential threats against the United States

Ballistic missile systems using advanced liquid- or solid-propellant propulsion are becoming more mobile, accurate and capable of striking targets over longer distances and are proliferating worldwide.[19]: pp.18–19/61 

Defense of Guam

MDA will be using multiple technologies to defend Guam.[31][32][33][34]


MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) with anti-ballistic missile capabilities.

MDA divides its systems into four phases: boost; ascent; mid-course; and terminal. Each of these corresponds to a different phase of the threat ballistic missile flight regime. Each phase offers different advantages and disadvantages to a missile defense system (see missile defense classified by trajectory phase), and the geography of each defended area dictates the types of systems which can be employed. The resultant flexible and layered defense approach concept is believed to improve overall defense effectiveness. The more opportunities a system has to neutralize a threat (e.g., by shooting down a missile), the better the chance of success.[citation needed]

Activities have also been categorized as fulfilling the goals of one of five "blocks". For example, "block 4.0" was stated as "Defend Allies and Deployed Forces in Europe from Limited Iranian Long-Range Threats and Expand Protection of U.S. Homeland". It included the US missile defense complex in Poland to be constructed, and the European Mid-course Radar (EMR), currently located at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll, which was to have been modified and relocated to the Czech Republic.[35][36]

On 17 September 2009, the Obama administration scrapped the "block 4.0" plan, in favor of a new so-called "European Phased Adaptive Approach" (EPAA).[37]

Boost phase

Can intercept all ranges of missiles, but the missile boost phase is only from one to five minutes. It is the best time to track the missile because it is bright and hot. The missile defense interceptors and sensors must be in close proximity to the launch, which is not always possible. This is the most desirable interception phase because it destroys the missile early in flight at its most vulnerable point and the debris will typically fall on the launching nations' territory.

Ascent phase

This is the phase after powered flight but before the apogee. It is significantly less challenging than boost phase intercepts, less costly, minimizes the potential impact of debris, and reduces the number of interceptors required to defeat a raid of missiles.

Midcourse phase

This phase begins after the booster burns out and begins coasting in space. This can last as long as 20 minutes. Any debris remaining will burn up as it enters the atmosphere. Ground-based missile defense systems can defend from long-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in this phase. Mobile elements can defend against medium and short ranged missiles in midcourse.

Terminal phase

This phase is the last chance to intercept the warhead. This contains the least-desirable Interception Point (IP) because there is little room for error and the interception will probably occur close to the defended target.[17]


Boost phase defense

Research and development:

One can distinguish disabling the warheads and just disabling the boosting capability. The latter has the risk of "shortfall": damage in countries between the launch site and the target location.

See also APS report.

Ascent phase defense

Research and development:

Midcourse (ballistic) phase defense

In use:

Research and development:

Hypersonic glide phase defense

Research and development:

Terminal phase defense

In use:

Research and development:

List of directors

No. Director Term Service branch
Portrait Name Took office Left office Duration
Director, Strategic Defense Initiative Organization
James A. Abrahamson
Abrahamson, James AlanLieutenant General
James A. Abrahamson
(born 1933)
March 27, 1984January 31, 19894 years, 310 days
U.S. Air Force
George L. Monahan Jr.
Monahan, George Lennox Jr.Lieutenant General
George L. Monahan Jr.
(born 1933)
February 1, 1989June 30, 19901 year, 149 days
U.S. Air Force
Henry F. Cooper
Cooper, Henry F.Ambassador
Henry F. Cooper
(born 1936)
July 10, 1990January 20, 19932 years, 194 days
U.S. Foreign
Director, Ballistic Missile Defense Organization
Malcolm R. O'Neill
O'Neill, Malcolm RossLieutenant General
Malcolm R. O'Neill
(born 1940)
November 22, 1993August 1, 19962 years, 253 days
U.S. Army
Lester L. Lyles
Lyles, Lester L.Lieutenant General
Lester L. Lyles
(born 1946)
August 1, 1996May 28, 19992 years, 300 days
U.S. Air Force
Ronald T. Kadish
Kadish, Ronald T.Lieutenant General
Ronald T. Kadish
(born 1948)
June 14, 1999January 2, 20022 years, 202 days
U.S. Air Force
Director, Missile Defense Agency
Ronald T. Kadish
Kadish, Ronald T.Lieutenant General
Ronald T. Kadish
(born 1948)
January 2, 2002July 2, 20042 years, 182 days
U.S. Air Force
Henry A. Obering III
Obering, Henry Anthony IIILieutenant General
Henry A. Obering III
(born c. 1954)
July 2, 2004November 21, 20084 years, 142 days
U.S. Air Force
Patrick J. O'Reilly
O'Reilly, Patrick J.Lieutenant General
Patrick J. O'Reilly
(born c. 1959)
November 21, 2008November 19, 20123 years, 364 days
U.S. Army
James D. Syring
Syring, James D.Vice Admiral
James D. Syring
(born 1963)
November 19, 2012June 16, 20174 years, 209 days
U.S. Navy
Samuel A. Greaves
Greaves, Samuel A.Lieutenant General
Samuel A. Greaves
(born c. 1963)
June 26, 2017May 31, 20191 year, 339 days
U.S. Air Force
Jon A. Hill
Hill, Jon AnthonyVice Admiral
Jon A. Hill
(born 1963)
May 31, 2019July 31, 20234 years, 61 days
U.S. Navy
Douglas L. Williams
Williams, Douglas L.Rear Admiral (lower half)
Douglas L. Williams
August 1, 2023December 5, 2023126 days
U.S. Navy
Heath A. Collins
Collins, HeathLieutenant General
Heath A. Collins
(born c. 1971)
December 5, 2023Incumbent128 days
U.S. Air Force

See also


  1. ^ "MDA Breaks Ground on New Headquarters Facility" (PDF).
  2. ^ Missile Defense Agency Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act (NoFEAR) Fiscal Year 2016 Report (PDF) (Report). Missile Defense Agency. 2016. p. 1. Retrieved July 11, 2021.
  3. ^ Missile Defense Agency Budget Estimates Overview Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 (PDF) (Report). Missile Defense Agency. 2020. p. 1, 15. Retrieved July 11, 2021.
  4. ^ "MDA Leadership". mda.mil. Missile Defense Agency. Retrieved July 11, 2021.
  5. ^ "SDIO Funds Research". MIT: The Tech. November 5, 1985. Archived from the original on August 8, 2012. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  6. ^ "Special Presentation: Innovative Science and Technology Programs". SPIE – Digital Library. June 3, 1988. doi:10.1117/12.947548.
  7. ^ "Star War's Inc". Inc. Magazine. April 1987.
  8. ^ Goodwin, Irwin (June 1988). "Washington's Ins & Outs: Ionson and Mense Leave SDIO". Physics Today. 41 (6): 53. Bibcode:1988PhT....41f..53G. doi:10.1063/1.2811448.
  9. ^ "Low Profile for SDI Work on Campus". The Scientist Magazine. May 1988.
  10. ^ "Ionson Counters SDI Dispute". MIT: The Tech. November 1985. Archived from the original on 2012-08-08. Retrieved 2018-05-25.
  11. ^ "Ionson Defends SDI Program". MIT: The Tech. October 1985. Archived from the original on 2012-06-16. Retrieved 2018-05-25.
  12. ^ a b 85-25: National Policy on Transfer of Scientific, Technical and Engineering Information, Security Innovation for Estate Protection
  13. ^ "MDA History". mda.mil. January 23, 2019. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  14. ^ "Missile Defense Agency Completes Change of Responsibility Ceremony". www.mda.mil (Press release). Fort Belvoir, Virginia: Missile Defense Agency. May 31, 2019. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  15. ^ Hitchens, Theresa (2023-05-18). "Watchdog slams Missile Defense Agency for delivery, testing shortfalls in 2022". Breaking Defense. Retrieved 2023-05-25.
  16. ^ a b MDA (2019). Our Mission. Retrieved on 2019-12-21 from https://www.mda.mil/about/mission.html.
  17. ^ a b "Testing: Building Confidence" (PDF). Missile Defense Agency. 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-23.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "New US Missile Defence Agency Bases To Be Constructed Around World". www.defenseworld.net. Digitalwriters Media Pvt. Ltd. 24 May 2017. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  19. ^ a b "Ballistic Missile Defense Review, 26 Jan 2010" (PDF). defense.gov. 26 January 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 March 2021. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  20. ^ "Iran tests longest range missiles". BBC News. 2009-09-28. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
  21. ^ Hildreth, Steven A. (2008-07-21). "Iran's Ballistic Missile Programs: An Overview". Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
  22. ^ "U.S. says Iran rocket test breaches U.N. resolution". yahoo.com. 27 July 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  23. ^ Motamedi, Maziar. "Iran has a hypersonic missile. What does that mean?". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  24. ^ "North Korea's missile programme". BBC News. 2009-05-27. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
  25. ^ "The 100th Missile Defense Brigade: A decade of transformation and mission success". army.mil. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  26. ^ On North Korea’s failed Musudan launch Archived 2018-11-06 at the Wayback Machine accessdate=2016-06-03
  27. ^ PM Abe: North Korea launched four ballistic missiles .nytimes.com/2017/01/01/world/asia/north-korea-intercontinental-ballistic-missile-test-kim-jong-un.html Choe Sang-Hun, (1 Jan 2017) "North Korea Will Test Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Kim Says" New York Times[permanent dead link]
  28. ^ PM Abe: North Korea launched four ballistic missiles[dead link] accessdate=2017-03-05
  29. ^ Washington Post North Korea launches another missile, perhaps one that can reach U.S. accessdate=2017-03-05
  30. ^ Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne (4 July 2017). "As US, SK drill, Tillerson seeks action on NK". CNN. Retrieved 2017-07-06.
  31. ^ Ashley Roque (16 March 2023) Missile Defense Agency details evolving, ‘incremental’ vision for Guam air defenses C2BMC; IBCS; LRDR, AN/TPY-6, LTAMDS, Sentinel Radars; Aegis Ashore in trailers, THAAD, IFPC Inc 2 using AIM-9X Sidewinder +2nd missile TBD;
  32. ^ DoD (14 Mar 2023) Missile Defense Agency Officials Hold a Press Briefing on President Biden's Fiscal 2024 Missile Defense Budget
  33. ^ Colin Demarest (28 Mar 2023) Electronic warfare is 'new frontier' for US Missile Defense Agency[permanent dead link] PPBE FY24: $10.9 billion; FY23: $9.6 billion; FY22: $8.9 billion
  34. ^ Micah Hanks (3 Apr 2023) BREAKTHROUGH BALLISTIC MISSILE INTERCEPT DEMONSTRATED BY U.S. MISSILE DEFENSE AGENCY IN AEGIS SYSTEM TEST FTM-31Ea "first Aegis Baseline 9 Weapon System (9.C2.0, or BMD 5.1) intercept of a medium-range ballistic missile with the upgraded SM-6 Dual" salvo of Standard Missile-6 Dual IIs, also called 'RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile' ERAM
  35. ^ "Ballistic Missile Defense System". GlobalSecurity. Retrieved 2008-11-07.
  36. ^ G. Lewis and T. Postol (May–June 2008). "The European missile defense folly". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 64 (2): 33. Bibcode:2008BuAtS..64b..32L. doi:10.2968/064002009.
  37. ^ "United States European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) and NATO Missile Defense". U.S. Department of State. 2011-05-03. Retrieved 2013-07-05.
  38. ^ "Kinetic Energy Interceptors Program Element 0603886C Budget Item Justification" (PDF). May 2009.
  39. ^ Airborne Laser (ABL) 2010 Archived 2010-01-28 at the Wayback Machine. US Missile Defense Agency, January 10, 2010. Retrieved: January 25, 2010.
  40. ^ "U.S. successfully tests airborne laser on missile". Reuters. Feb 12, 2010.
  41. ^ "Raytheon Awarded $10 million to Develop New Missile Defense Interceptor". Raytheon. Sep 18, 2008.
  42. ^ "President's Budget Submission for Program Element 0603894C" (PDF). Apr 27, 2009.