The Heritage Foundation
Protecting America in the New Missile Age


Secretary Robert Gates on Missile Defense

February 26th, 2010

Robert Gates

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both spoke at the Atlantic Council this week to discuss factors that should be considered as NATO drafts a new “Strategic Concept,” which defines NATO’s purpose, nature, and security tasks.

Secretary Gates said Europe has underfunded defense budgets for NATO, and consequently, has undermined joint security. Specifically, he mentioned missile defense. Land invasion is no longer a pressing threat. The danger of missile attacks is more critical and “more likely to come from outside NATO’s traditional borders; and more likely to require new approaches that incorporate far more than just military power.” (Source)

On the president’s new missile defense policy: “Last year, the Obama administration announced a new plan for missile defense in Europe – a phased, adaptive approach that will give us real capabilities in a shorter period of time than the previous plan. We consider this a U.S.-funded contribution to NATO missile defense, which is critical to the collective-defense mission to protect our populations, territory, and forces.”

Iran is focusing on short- and medium-range missiles, but its long-range capability also poses a threat, whether the capability reaches fruition next year or five years from now. One of the top funding priorities is missile defense. The U.S. and our allies must prepare for long-range weapons, particularly from countries outside NATO that defy the U.N. Security Council.

In scaling back Bush-era missile defense policy, including reducing interceptors in Alaska and California, the Obama administration has left the U.S. vulnerable to long-range ballistic missiles and jeopardized systems like Ground-based Midcourse Defense. In assessing the missile threat, however, the administration seems to realize the need for more, not less, funding for these programs.

Secretary Gates acknowledged the importance of missile defense in his speech, but funding (or the lack thereof) reflects priority. We hope the administration restores missile defense funding and keeps all our options open. Read Gates’s full remarks.

Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report

February 4th, 2010

Iran North Korea missiles

The Department of Defense (DOD) has released its Ballistic Missile Defense Review, conducted from March 2009 through January 2010. Download the 61-page report in PDF.

In assessing the ballistic missile threat around the world, DOD found the threat to be growing. As technology improves, missiles are becoming more accurate and farther-reaching. Ballistic missile systems are also more flexible and mobile. These trends are particularly disturbing as rogue states continue developing long-range weapons and nuclear capability. Last year, Iran test-fired the long-range Sajjil-2 missile, capable of reaching Israel and Southern Europe. Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) have a longer range than the Sajjil.

“There is some uncertainty about when and how this type of [ICBM] threat to the U.S. homeland will mature,” states the report, “but there is no uncertainty about the existence of regional threats. They are clear and present. The threat from short-range, medium-range, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs, MRBMs, and IRBMs) in regions where the United States deploys forces and maintains security relationships is growing at a particularly rapid pace.”

DOD’s recommended priorities for the U.S. include testing new capabilities before deployment, testing under realistic operational conditions, and adapting as threats shift.

DOD contends that the Ground-based Midcourse Defense presently protects the U.S. against ICBM attacks from Iran and North Korea. To maintain this “advantageous position” as the threat grows, DOD says the U.S. will:

“Maintain readiness and continue to develop existing operational capabilities at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

“Complete the second field of 14 silos at Fort Greely to hedge against the possibility that additional deployments become necessary.

“Deploy new sensors in Europe to improve cueing for missiles launched at the United States by Iran or other potential adversaries in the Middle East.

“Invest in further development of the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) for future land-based deployment as the ICBM threat matures.

“Increase investments in sensors and early-intercept kill systems to help defeat missile defense countermeasures.

“Pursue a number of new GMD system enhancements, develop next generation missile defense capabilities, and advance other hedging strategies including continued development and assessment of a two-stage ground-based interceptor.”

Some experts question the report’s conclusions. For example, the Heritage Foundation’s Baker Spring believes the threat to the homeland could well be more imminent, which leaves the U.S. vulnerable to strategic surprises and risks the lives of millions of Americans. Our solutions and strategies should be more immediate rather than future oriented.

Rep. Michael Turner on Obama’s Missile Defense Policy

February 2nd, 2010

Rep. Michael Turner

Representative Michael Turner, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Times in which he makes the case for restoring funding for missile defense.

President Barack Obama cut missile defense spending. He dropped plans to deploy missile interceptors and radar to Poland and the Czech Republic, respectively. He reduced interceptors in Alaska. However, Obama is looking to expand missile defense capabilities in the Persian Gulf. Is the administration committed to beefing up defenses? Turner says that depends on the FY 2011 budget.

“The administrations policy cannot be funded if the missile defense budget remains flat,” he writes. “There are simply no more future programs like Airborne Laser, Kinetic Energy Interceptor and Multiple Kill Vehicle to take money from. Unless the Administration decides to further cut the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, take resources from critical programs such as testing and targets, or perhaps slow roll the implementation of its new policy, it cannot follow through on its stated commitments. A better solution is to restore top line funding for missile defense.”

In a move that seemed impulsive, it appeared the Obama administration scaled back Bush-era missile defense policy just for the sake of scaling back. For example, reducing interceptors in Alaska and California has left the U.S. vulnerable to long-range ballistic missiles and jeopardized the GMD system. Turner opposed these cuts and notes that the Pentagon reached similar conclusions about GMD a short time later.

“For the foreseeable future, GMD is the sole missile defense capability to protect the U.S. homeland from a rogue missile attack. So while the administrations most recent changes are welcome, they must be followed by continued support and funding in the budget.”

In the area of European and theater missile defense, the administration is only now realizing the need for more, not less, funding for these programs. For example, the Obama administration dropped previous plans in Central Europe to focus on increasing “cost-effective” sea- and land-based missile interceptors, but things aren’t as simple as they seemed.

“[A]s details have emerged,” Turner writes, “officials now acknowledge it will cost more, necessitate additional missile defense-capable ships, and require significant investments to develop new technical concepts. Full coverage of Europe and further protection of the United States comes later than previously planned and depends not only on new technologies but also on new host nation agreements. Securing some of these agreements may prove difficult as Russian officials are now grumbling about key aspects of the new approach such as the longer-range Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block II interceptor.”

The bottom line is that any one of the 28 countries that have ballistic missiles could hit the U.S., intentionally or not, and our missile defense program must be fully funded and flexible enough to deal with these threats. This week’s budget debates will reveal how committed Obama is to protecting the U.S.

Missile Defense in the Persian Gulf

February 1st, 2010

Persian Gulf

The Obama Administration is finally doing something that is likely to lessen the threat posed by an aggressive Iran. It is following the lead of the George W. Bush Administration and looking to expand missile defense capabilities in the Persian Gulf.

This is according to a January 31, 2010 article in The New York Times. This step has many advantages for the United States and its friends and allies in the region regarding the Iranian threat. Reflective of a “protect and defend” strategy, it offers a defensive solution that serves to demonstrate the aggressive intent of Iran. The alternative is to give the Iranians a first strike option. It also does not require the global consensus that has been holding up the imposition of effective sanctions against Iran. This is not to say that this step should substitute for the diplomatic effort to impose sanctions on Iran, only augment it.

Third, it provides direct reassurance to U.S. friends and allies in the region and strengthens security ties there. Fourth, it will serve to lessen the pressure on the friends and allies there that do not have nuclear weapons to seek them in the future. Likewise, it will lessen the likelihood that the friends and allies that may have nuclear weapons will be put in a circumstance where they would compelled to use them. This last point is critical. Last fall, The Heritage Foundation ran a series of exercises based on an abstract of Middle East regional setting, where all the nation-equivalent players were presumed to have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. The exercises demonstrated that pursuing a defensive option resulted in fewer nuclear weapons. On the other hand, a nuclear conflict broke out when the player equivalent to the United States simultaneously relied on nuclear retaliatory options, pursued a policy of nuclear disarmament and chose not to pursue defensive options.

The Obama Administration, however, needs to close the circle on this productive step. The plan is to place the Patriot missile defense batteries in four Persian Gulf states and Standard Missile-3 missile defense interceptors on Navy ships in the Gulf. These steps will permit a defense against shorter-range missiles. The problem is that these current systems will not provide a defense to the United States or its friends against the longer-range missiles that Iran is seeking. This will permit Iran to focus on threatening the United States directly in order to drive a wedge between the United States and its friends and force the United States out of the region. It is an obvious window of vulnerability that the Obama Administration must close.

The Obama Administration can close this window of vulnerability by taking three steps. The first is to upgrade the sea-based missile defense system to make it capable of countering longer-range missiles. This sea-based system could also be used to protect the United States against an Iranian launch of a short-range missile off the coast that carries and electro-magnetic pulse nuclear warhead. Such an upgrade program should be put on the fast track. The second step is to restore the larger number of Ground-based Midcourse Defense interceptors that are designed to counter long-range missiles that were proposed by President Bush. The Bush Administration proposed placing 44 such interceptors in Alaska and California and ten in Poland. President Obama, last year, made the unwise decision to scale back the number to be place in Alaska and California to 30 and cancelled the agreement with Poland. The most powerful step the Obama Administration could take to close this window of vulnerability is to announce that it will revive a proposal of the Reagan Administration and the George H.W. Bush Administration to put missile defense interceptors in space. This is a missile defense program that will serve to put the Iranians on the defensive.

US to Simulate Iran Attack

December 15th, 2009

MDA missile

Next month, the U.S. will simulate an Iranian attack to test its missile defense systems. The long-range “attack” missile would be fired from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, and a missile fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base would intercept it.

The Missile Defense Agency’s Army Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly said the test will be different from a simulated North Korean attack, which would be slower and less direct.

“Previously, we have been testing the GMD system against a North Korean-type scenario…This next test … is more of a head-on shot like you would use defending against an Iranian shot into the United States. So that’s the first time that we’re now testing in a different scenario.”

In September, President Barack Obama dropped plans to build missile defense shields in Poland and the Czech Republic, claiming he wanted to focus on proven and cost-effective technology that will aid in defending against Iran’s shorter-range missiles rather than long-range. The decision was seen as a move to placate Russia.

“The development of that (Iranian) long-range threat has been slower than what was originally estimated, and the pace of the medium-range missiles is dramatically higher,” O’Reilly said.

Next month’s simulated attack will cost about $150 million

(Source: Reuters)

Missile Defense Quick Links for Wednesday

August 12th, 2009

Dmitry Medvedev>> Defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing are vying for a missile defense deal that could bring in $200 million a year.

Reuters reports that all three contractors want the chance to operate and sustain the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD). John Holly, a Lockheed senior executive, said his company has “the right skills and the capability.”

Boeing’s GMD director of operations and sustainment said his company “is the lowest risk option for the work because of this experience and success on the program.”

>> Russia is gearing up for a new kind of space race with the U.S. A commander in the Russian air force said his country will develop a defense system that will counter the “threat” of our space-based missile defense capabilities. We may have the ability to hit any Russian target from space by 2030, and Russia’s response is to build a competing rocket.

A Russian general said, “The development of air and space offensive weapons by foreign states demonstrates that by 2030 radical changes will take place in the exploration of air and space as an integral sphere of armed struggle.”

With George Bush out of office, any plans to produce a weapon with such capacities are in doubt. The U.S. and Russia are in talks to renegotiate START, and if previous compromises are any indication, Russia may not have to worry about the development of a space-based target-hitting weapon. (Source)

>> A Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) successfully hit its target in space. Part of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, the SM-3 destroyed a short-range ballistic missile. (Source)