Frequently Asked Questions

You can browse our Frequently Asked Questions, or select a topic from the list below.

General Questions Elements Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense
Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB) Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3)
Sensors Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Supporting Efforts
Business Opportunities Missile Defense Agency’s Integration and Operations Center (MDIOC)  



General Questions

What is the Missile Defense Agency (MDA)?
The MDA is a United States government agency within the Department of Defense (DoD). It is made up of federal government civilians, military members from all services, and support contractor personnel. Our mission is to develop and field an integrated, layered, ballistic missile defense system to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends against all ranges of enemy ballistic missiles in all phases of flight.

Since receiving presidential direction in December 2002, the DoD and the Missile Defense Agency has delivered an initial defensive capability to the warfighter while continually developing a more technically sophisticated system to stay ahead of the evolving ballistic missile threat. In the next few years, the Agency intends to deliver significantly more integrated and robust missile defense technologies.

How does missile defense work?
The Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) being developed and tested by the MDA consists primarily of hit-to-kill interceptors. These interceptors directly hit the incoming missile either inside the earth's atmosphere or while the hostile missile is in space. The interceptors ram the warhead at a very high closing speed, destroying the target using only kinetic energy. It has been described as hitting a bullet with a bullet — a capability that has been successfully demonstrated in test after test. Every element of the BMDS is tied into a network of radars and sensors to obtain information on missile launches and to track, discriminate, and target an incoming warhead.

Can I use images posted on this website?
All photos in the media library are in the public domain. Please credit the Missile Defense Agency, DoD, or U.S Government for the photo.

Where can I get an electronic version of the MDA seal for my presentation/publication/web site/school project?
Only those with another government agency or under contract to the MDA are allowed to use the MDA seal. It cannot be used for advertising or other commercial purposes without MDA approval and consent. If you are under contract to the MDA and wish to obtain an electronic version of the MDA seal for official uses, please have an MDA government sponsor obtain the file for you from the MDA Public Affairs Office. If you are with a government agency, please contact the MDA Public Affairs Office for an electronic copy.

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Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense

What is the mission of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program?
Aegis BMD’s mission is to deliver an enduring, operationally effective, supportable and integrated ballistic missile defense capability in Aegis cruisers and destroyers, in defense of the U.S., deployed forces, allies and friends; to increase the effectiveness of the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) by contributing to the synergy with other BMDS elements; and to incrementally increase this capability by delivering evolutionary spiral upgrades as part of BMDS development. Since 2004, the operational Aegis BMD Weapon System has included an engagement capability against regional ballistic missile threats providing the BMDS with its first mobile, global, deployable and proven capability that can destroy ballistic missiles above the atmosphere. The Aegis BMD system integrates with other parts of the BMDS, receiving and providing track information to expand battlespace and improve effectiveness.

Is the Aegis BMD capability deployed?
Installation, equipping and crew training is ongoing. The initial stage has been to outfit 18 Aegis ships with the capability, fifteen destroyers and three cruisers. Sixteen of these were in the Pacific and two in the Atlantic.

Will more ships be equipped?   
In response to the increased demand for Aegis BMD capability from the operational forces (Central and Europe Commands), the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the U.S. Navy have commenced a joint initiative to increase the number of Aegis BMD Atlantic Fleet ships to five by January 2010. In response to the Combat Commanders’ demand, Secretary of Defense added funds to modify six more Aegis ships to conduct BMD operations in the defense budget, thus bringing the near-term level to 11 equipped ships in the Atlantic and 16 in the Pacific. The Navy’s Modernization Program will add even more BMD capable ships starting in the next few years.

Will the SM-3 missile be available for international sale?  
Yes. Japan first purchased the Aegis BMD system in 2003. Presently, all four of Japan’s KONGO Class Destroyers will be upgraded with the Aegis BMD Weapon System and SM-3 missiles. Two installations have been completed and the remaining installations are scheduled through 2010.

Will allies, especially Japan, contribute to production costs for the missiles?
Foreign Military Sales rules require the allied international customers to pay the full cost of the items procured. An increase in procurement quantities would ultimately lower unit production costs and benefit the U.S. government.

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Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB)

What is happening with the ALTB Program?
The MDA is transitioning its Directed Energy Research program from ALTB test to development of a next-generation airborne platform for missile defense missions. The ALTB program accomplished its key MDA Knowledge Point when it successfully shot down a boosting missile in February 2010 and completed the contract in November 2011. Recently, classified hardware and laser chemicals were removed from the aircraft as part of its preparation for storage.

What will happen to the aircraft?
The aircraft will be processed into storage at the 309th Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. The aircraft will be screened in accordance with Department of Defense procedures for reutilization and possible display at a Government installation or private museum.

If the program had completed the contract, what work was being done when the President's 2012 Budget constrained the operations?
After shoot down, the program transitioned to Science & Technology testing to demonstrate extended range tracking and measure the effects of jitter and the boundary layer on beam propagation. The program had two contracts in place in November 2011, one for continued testing and one for storage preparation. In consideration of the reduced funds to the Directed Energy Program Element, MDA began program closeout and awarded the storage contract.

What will happen to the Science and Technology testing now?
The remaining Science and Technology objectives will be accomplished by other Service and Agency programs as needed to support their requirements.

How much money was spent on the program?
Total funding appropriated to the program since the Missile Defense Agency took it over in fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2011 is $4.1B.

What did we get from our investment in the ABL/ALTB?
The ABL/ALTB built and tested the world's first airborne megawatt-class laser and demonstrated the ability to acquire and track a boosting missile, actively compensate the high energy laser for atmospheric distortions, and place a stabilized laser spot on a boosting missile over hundreds of kilometers. The program then demonstrated the laser kill of a solid fueled boosting missile and destruction of a representative foreign ballistic missile in flight and verified these accomplishments by placing and measuring lethal energy on instrumented missiles in flight. These accomplishments demonstrated the viability of a directed energy weapon for missile defense.

What's next for Directed Energy research to support missile defense?
The MDA is developing highly efficient electric lasers that, when combined with the potential benefits of operation on high altitude, low-mach airborne platforms will significantly reduce the complexity and cost of future directed energy weapons. In parallel with laser development, a high-altitude platform test program will verify high altitude flight characteristics and provide data to concept development of the next-generation airborne platform for missile defense missions.

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What role do sensors play in the BMDS?
Sensors play a critical role in identifying, classifying and communicating ballistic missile threats for boost, midcourse and terminal intercept assets.

What is the difference between infrared and phased-array radars?
Infrared sensors on the ground, in aircraft, or on spacecraft can detect hot spots like motor-vehicle engines, jet engines, missile exhausts and even campfires—but must be 'looking' in the direction to gather the information. They have good location accuracy and high sensitivity to signals without registering false targets such as sun reflections.

Phased-array radars operate with antenna radiation patterns and are widely used in communications, defense, and space applications. Phased-array radars use a large number or individual elements 'arrayed' on a radar face; some systems use a single face, others use multiple faces. Like a mechanical antenna, each individual element can both transmit and receive. These functions are controlled electrically by timing or 'phasing' the signal to each element. While some phased-array radars are fixed, systems like the Aegis system have a fixed-array that is mounted on a ship and is a mobile radar.

Are these just satellites?
No. The sensor layer for the BMDS will consist of several different types of sensors. These are; Overhead Persistent Infrared, UAV-Based Sensors, Space Tracking & Surveillance System, Sea-Based Radars, Upgraded Early Warning Radar, COBRA DANE radar, Midcourse X-Band Radar, AN/TPY-2 Radar and the SPY-1. For more information, please look at the Sensors page.

Are these sensors in place right now?
Some are currently active and some are still coming online in the near future.

Currently, the Overhead Persistent Infrared uses existing satellite technology to collect, process and communicate data for missile warning and defense.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles-based sensors are in place and used to protect U.S. forces and allies in forward deployed areas against ballistic missile attack by identifying and communicating threats.

Sea-Based Radars consist of the operational Sea-Based X-band radar mounted on a mobile platform and Aegis ships. The SBX is able to detect, acquire, and track targets to provide data necessary to classify and engage. The SBX is a unique combination of advanced X-band radar with a mobile, ocean-going, semi-submersible platform that provides the BMDS a sensor capability that can be positioned to cover any part of the globe. Aegis destroyers detect and track ICBMs and report track data to the missile defense system. This capability shares tracking data to cue other missile defense sensors and provides fire control data to Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD).

Space Tracking & Surveillance System is planned to be a constellation of low-earth orbiting satellites that will provide a global capability to detect and provide critical tracking information about ballistic missiles. The system will provide end-to-end tracking, discrimination of warheads and decoys and transmission of data to other systems to cue radars and intercept assets. STSS will also be able to provide hit/kill assessments to process and improve BMDS intercepts.

There are three operational Upgraded Early Warning Radars (UEWR) using solid state, phased-array surveillance operating from Beale Air Force Base in California, Thule Air Base, Greenland, and RAF Fylingdales in the United Kingdom and an operational COBRA DANE Radar at Shemya, Alaska. The UEWR's provide integrated tactical warning and attack assessment as well as providing estimated launch and impact points. These radars operate in the Ultra High Frequency Band and can detect objects out to 3000 miles.

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Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)

How does THAAD support the Ballistic Missile Defense System?
The THAAD element provides the Ballistic Missile Defense System with a globally transportable, rapidly deployable capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or just outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight.

What is THAAD?
A THAAD battery consists of four main components: truck-mounted launchers, interceptors, radar, and fire control/communications. THAAD is a mobile interceptor missile designed to intercept short- to medium- range ballistic missiles inside or just outside the earth's atmosphere. The interceptor is a single-stage round consisting of a solid propellant booster and a kill vehicle encased in a canister.

How does THAAD work?
The interceptor is launched from a truck-mounted, palletized loading system designed launcher. Interceptor steering before booster burnout is provided by an electromechanical Thrust Vector Actuation (TVA) System. The TVA System vectors the solid rocket booster nozzle based on commands given by the missile mission computer. After booster separation, a separate group of several small thrusters make the kill vehicle turn and roll toward the target. The interceptor has autonomous on-board navigation, refines navigation using in-flight target updates and acquires, tracks and intercepts the target.

The THAAD element uses hit-to-kill technology whereby kinetic energy destroys the incoming warhead. The high-altitude intercept mitigates effects of enemy weapons of mass destruction before they reach the ground.

Is THAAD currently fielded?
Production of THAAD began in December of 2006. The first two THAAD batteries were activated by the U.S. Army in May 2008 and October 2009. A third THAAD battery was delivered in 2013 and began training. Production of THAAD continues with a total planned procurement of six batteries. The U.S. Army is responsible for deployment and operations.

How is THAAD deployable?
A THAAD battery is rapidly deployable by being globally transportable via air, land and sea.

What type of radar is included in the THAAD Battery?
The Army-Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance and Control (AN/TPY-2) is the largest air-transportable X-band radar in the world. It searches, tracks, and discriminates objects and provides updated tracking data to the THAAD interceptor.

What is a THAAD launcher?
The THAAD launcher is one of the four main components of a THAAD battery. The launcher is truck-mounted, highly-mobile, and able to be stored. The launcher can hold eight interceptors which can be fired and rapidly reloaded.

How does the fire control work?
The fire control is also one of the four main components of a THAAD battery. The fire control is the communication and data management backbone which links the THAAD components together. The fire control also links THAAD to external command and control nodes and to the entire Ballistic Missile Defense System. The fire control plans and executes intercept solutions.

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Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD)

What is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program about and how does it work?
The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element is primarily composed of a Fire Control and Communications component and Ground-Based Interceptors. This provides us with the capability to defend the United States against intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile attacks in the midcourse phase of flight.            

Is there an explosion when the Kill Vehicle hits the reentry vehicle?
No. There is a collision in space. It is very powerful and generates debris, gas and dust. The gas and dust may actually look like they burn, but only for an extremely short time. The debris and dust will reenter the atmosphere and burn up like meteors.

What is inside the reentry vehicle?
The reentry vehicle will carry a bomb of some kind. That bomb could be nuclear, biological or chemical. It could cause mass destruction if it reached its target. We want to collide with it in space and prevent it from reaching earth.

What else might fly along with the hostile reentry vehicle?
Some debris from the rocket stages will be moving alongside the reentry vehicle. Also, some decoys may be present to try to fool us into colliding with them instead of the reentry vehicle.

How can the MDA know if the kill vehicle has collided with the target reentry vehicle during tests?
The MDA uses a wide variety of sophisticated space-based, ground-based, and airborne sensors and instruments—including advanced radar images and tracking information, high-speed photographs and video, and radio signals from the target—to determine the success of the intercept.

Will future GMD tests be truly representative of an actual GMD engagement?
These developmental flight tests are carefully designed to answer specific questions about components of the GMD system; however, they are not controlled or scripted.

What missile defense assets are in Alaska?
Twenty-six anti-ballistic missile interceptors are in place at the Missile Defense Complex located at Ft. Greely. The MDA upgraded the Cobra Dane radar on Shemya Island in the Aleutians for missile defense use, and will soon start work on upgrading the early warning radar at Clear Air Force Station. The Clear Radar will maintain its current early warning capabilities, but also be integrated into the Ballistic Missile Defense System.

Who mans the Ft. Greely Missile Defense Complex?
Soldiers assigned to the 49th Missile Defense Battalion. The Battalion is unique in several ways. First, it’s an Army National Guard unit composed of full-time members of the Alaska National Guard. Members of the 49th make up the launch crews and provide security for the Complex. Secondly, no other unit in the Army or Army National Guard has a mission like the 49th – they are truly unique. Finally, the Missile Defense Complex at Ft. Greely is considered a forward-deployed location—none of the soldiers assigned to the 49th will deploy to another location unless they volunteer for it.

Why was the Missile Defense Complex placed at Ft. Greely?
From Ft. Greely, Alaska, the entire United States can be protected from long-range ballistic missiles. The area is remote with a low population density. Plus, the infrastructure was already in place. Ft. Greely itself had been closed in the late 1990s and all of the office buildings, maintenance shops and housing were empty. Finally, the geology of the area made it fairly easy to drill holes for silos.

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PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3)

How is the PAC-3 missile different from the PATRIOT used in Desert Storm?
The PAC-3 missile is a mobile, high-velocity, hit-to-kill interceptor developed to provide increased defense capability against short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft. Unlike earlier versions of the PATRIOT missile, which use an explosive warhead to destroy their targets, the PAC-3 missile collides with its target in mid-air at extremely high speed, destroying the target and neutralizing its payload. Other system upgrades include: improved radar performance allowing enhanced target discrimination and new system software that improves determination of target launch and impact points and provides an interface with THAAD. PAC-3 is currently deployed with the U.S. Army around the world.

Is PAC-3 being developed by the MDA?
No, the U.S. Army is responsible for production and further development of the PAC-3; the Missile Defense Agency remains responsible for the Ballistic Missile Defense System and PAC-3 interoperability and integration efforts.

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Supporting Efforts


Missile Defense Agency's Integration and Operations Center (MDIOC)

formerly called the Joint National Integration Center (JNIC)

What makes the MDIOC unique at the MDA?
Several Missile Defense organizations are located in Colorado Springs, Colo. The MDIOC is able to take advantage of this location, as well as the several combatant command, joint, and command and control organizations which exist at the MDIOC, to provide a unique synergistic work environment.

Does the MDIOC still conduct the modeling and simulation wargames?
Yes. Only the name has changed, not the mission. The MDIOC hosts and supports classified and unclassified wargames on all scenario levels, including coalition and international simulations.

Business Opportunities

Where can I find points of contact for procurements?
Each procurement advertised in the FedBizOpps has a point of contact with a telephone number and an e-mail address. If you need more assistance, please email the Competition Advocate at

How can I match MDA expectations with a reasonable proposal or quote?
To meet MDA expectations, it is important to make sure you understand the technical requirements, standard business practices, and the current market for the supplies or services required. If you do not have a substantial amount of experience in the market, we suggest teaming with a more experienced contractor through subcontracting and even through a mentor-protégé program.

How can I be placed on the MDA bidders list?
At this time, the MDA does not have a formal bidders list.

Where can I download solicitations?
Current solicitations may be found on FedBizOpps.

How can I find a particular MDA Synopsis of an acquisition?
You can find information on the MDA’s new procurements and awards (including posting of J&A’s) on the FedBizOpps website.

Does the MDA accept unsolicited proposals & what is the process?
An unsolicited proposal is a written proposal for a new or innovative idea that is submitted to an agency at the initiative of the offeror for the purposes of obtaining a contract with the government. The offer must be innovative and unique and not something the government is already doing. See FAR 15.603 for more specific criteria. Preliminary contact with agency technical personnel or other appropriate personnel before preparing a detailed unsolicited proposal or submitting proprietary information to the government may save considerable time and money for both parties. View the MDA Unsolicited Proposal Guide for more information.

How can I identify potential contract opportunities?
After determining your appropriate NAICS code, go to the FedBizOpps website or to the Federal Acquisition Jumpstation. These are your links to other federal procurement information sites.

How can I find business opportunities for the NAICS code that represents my business product or service?
After determining your appropriate NAICS code, go to the FedBizOpps website or to the Federal Acquisition Jumpstation. These are your links to other federal procurement information sites.

What is a DUNS number and why is it being requested?
The Dun and Bradstreet Universal Numbering System (DUNS) provides numbers to employers upon request as assigned by Dun & Bradstreet. It is standard for all U.S. Federal Government electronic commerce transactions. Employer submission of this number assists in identifying Federal contractors and subcontractors. An employer may request a DUNS number at no cost by calling Dun & Bradstreet at 1-800-333-0505 or request a DUNS number online.

How do I register with the System for Award Management (SAM)?
You must be registered in (SAM) to be awarded a contract from the DoD.

What is SAM?

The System for Award Management (SAM) is combining federal procurement systems and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance into one new system. This consolidation is being done in phases. The first phase of SAM includes the functionality from the following systems:
* Central Contractor Registry (CCR)
* Federal Agency Registration (FedReg)
* Online Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA)
* Excluded Parties List System (EPLS)

How will SAM benefit me?
The overarching benefits of SAM include streamlined and integrated processes, elimination of data redundancies, and reduced costs while providing improved capability.

Is there anyone who can provide me with individualized support?
The Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) are federally-funded centers providing technical assistance and information to businesses interested in government contracting. Services include:

  • Help with bid or proposal development and writing

  • Computerized online bid-matching services

  • Follow-on support with pre- and post-contract award procedures

  • Assistance with ISO-9000 certification and quality management improvement

  • Conferences on business management