Vice President Joe Biden's trip last week to Poland and the Czech Republic may have helped soothe rattled allies after Team Obama pitched overboard the W-era, anti-Iran missile shield that was to be deployed in both countries. But the new missile-defense plan he pitched has problems.
A lot of them.
In pulling the plug on the Bush missile-defense plan in Eastern Europe last month, the White House came up with a new architecture based on a new evaluation of existing intelligence on the Iranian ballistic-missile threat.
The Pentagon now insists Iran is moving faster on its short- and medium-range ballistic-missile programs than on its long-range ICBM effort, against which the Czech and Polish sites were aimed. (Of course, many experts think progress in one missile program supports another.)
So the Pentagon is proposing to place Navy ships equipped with SM-3 missiles around Europe to intercept and protect the continent from Iran's short- and medium-range missiles. This is a solid move to defend Europe.
But while Iran may be a threat to Europe, it's a much bigger threat to us (and Israel). So while it's appropriate to defend Europe as part of NATO, the new plan doesn't do enough to protect the good ol' US of A from the Iranian ICBM threat.
Supposedly, there's a plan for that, though, which includes developing a land-based SM-3 for Europe by 2020 and using missile-defense interceptors that the Bush administration placed in Alaska and California.
Unfortunately, the US Air Force estimates that Tehran could have an ICBM by 2015 -- an assessment the Pentagon is now hoping may be on the early side. Of course, intelligence estimates can be wrong; an Iranian ICBM could be here sooner than 2015.
But the Obama administration thinks that if the Iranian ICBM comes online before the land-based SM-3s are developed and in place, the West Coast, Bush-era missile-defense sites give us some breathing room.
The West Coast missile-defense architecture was designed to protect us against North Korea's nuke and missile threat, not Iran's -- hence the development of a similar system in Eastern Europe.
The Alaska and California sites could take out an Iranian ICBM targeted at much of the United States, but there are serious questions about coverage -- including New York and Washington -- because of the missiles' trajectory and range.
Worse yet, President Obama decided to reduce the number of West Coast interceptors from 40 to 30, which would limit the capability to take out incoming ICBMs, because several interceptors would be fired at each missile to ensure a kill.
That means there's a gap in our defenses against an Iranian ICBM strike until the land-based SM-3s are operational, which, by the way, will almost certainly face funding and engineering-development challenges.
In the end, the Biden proposal not only lags the Bush plan's deployment time frame, it's possibly more expensive and probably only equally as capable. Plus, the Russians (and Chinese) may try to get us to stand down on the new, "juiced" land-based SM-3, arguing that they're a counterspace weapon in the arms-control talks many think the Obama administration is interested in opening on the weaponization of space.
In other words, some experts think there's a chance there'll never be a land-based SM-3 system.
So unless you're living in a fantasy world, brace yourself for the fact we'll be facing an Iranian nuclear-capable ICBM threat soon -- perhaps sooner than we thought -- without an effective defense.
It's also a good time to remind ourselves that the purpose of defense is to be technologically ahead of the threat, not behind it -- which is where we'll be if we're not careful.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First Appeared in the New York Post