April 17, 2009
By Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.
An enemy tests a weapon that could kill millions of your
countrymen in the near future. Having worked diligently on a
defense against such attacks, your government has one within reach.
Then, suddenly, it pulls back on this effort.
You are puzzled. You see a defense budget that preserves funding
for weapons programs to defend other nations, but cuts back on the
very weapons that could defend you.
This is what the Obama administration is doing with the nation's
missile-defense budget. In the same week the North Koreans tested a
long-range missile, the Pentagon announced a $1.4 billion cut in
our missile-defense budget. Under the knife are the programs that
could defend us against missile attacks from North Korea and Iran -
the most hostile regimes America faces today.
It's being done in the name of "restructuring" the
missile-defense program. The administration is holding on to
defenses against short-range missiles, while scaling back programs
against long-range missiles - the kind North Korea and Iran
This makes no sense. Defenses against short-range missiles are
all very fine, but they are not the missiles that most threaten the
United States. That would be North Korea's Taepodong-2 missiles
tested April 5, which when fully deployed, could reach Alaska and
One target of the cuts is the Airborne Laser (ABL), an
energy-directed weapon placed on a modified Boeing 747-400. The ABL
is intended to knock down a long-range missile shortly after it
leaves the launchpad - the best time for an intercept because its
warheads have not yet been deployed in space.
Preliminary tests have been quite promising. An actual ABL
intercept test could take place later this year. This "boost-phase
defense" is precisely the kind of system needed to counter
long-range nuclear missiles launched from North Korea or
Another budget casualty appears to be the Ground-Based
Interceptor (GBI) program. Thirty-three GBIs are already - or will
soon be - deployed in Alaska and California. But the budget
eliminates the plan to ramp up to 44 by 2011.
That makes no sense. GBIs are the only operational systems
capable of destroying a Taepodong-2 missile approaching the U.S.
mainland. Shorter-range missiles fired from Aegis ships could
defend Japan, Guam and perhaps Hawaii, but currently could do
nothing to stop a missile heading for Alaska or California.
Most puzzling of all is the Pentagon's decision to kill the
Multiple Kill Vehicle, which is designed to destroy missile stages
and warheads in space. Its value is that it could potentially
destroy multiple incoming warheads. It is not yet fully developed,
but there are no showstoppers in its research, testing and
The same is true for the Space Tracking and Surveillance System
(SSTS) sensor program, which could discriminate between real
warheads and decoys in space. Both programs could prove vital in
defeating an enemy's attempt to overwhelm our missile-defense
system with countermeasures.
It would be understandable if we couldn't afford missile
defenses. But that is clearly not the case. The $1.4 billion cut
from the missile defense budget is 0.04 percent of the overall
proposed federal budget. It's like a rounding error in an Obama
The roughly $10 billion we spend annually on all of missile
defense amounts to only 13 percent of what local, state and federal
government agencies pay for "first responders." I'm all for
responding effectively to catastrophes, but surely we can afford a
fraction of the "response" budget to stop a disaster before it
happens. Besides, why is defending Americans from nuclear attack
one of the few areas where the administration is showing any budget
"Missile defense doesn't work" is an old excuse. And false.
As Gen. Trey Obering, former director of the Missile Defense
Agency, points out in a new documentary, "33 Minutes," the U.S.
missile-defense program has long since proved that it can, in fact,
"hit a bullet with a bullet." As he puts it, recent tests show "we
are now able to hit a spot on a bullet with a bullet."
Missile defense is not just the last line of defense against a
future North Korean or Iranian missile attack. It is the best line
of defense. Diplomacy did nothing to stop the North Koreans from
their latest test.
Despite U.N. Security Council resolutions, they tested anyway.
You can be sure that if they ever decide to launch a missile
against us or our allies, they will not be deterred by diplomacy,
First Appeared in The Washington Times
An enemy tests a weapon that could kill millions of your countrymen in the near future. Having worked diligently on a defense against such attacks, your government has one within reach. Then, suddenly, it pulls back on this effort.
Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.
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