October 24, 2011 | Commentary on Missile Defense, National Security and Defense

Obama's Missing Defense Won't Replace Missile Defense

Presidential candidate Barack Obama argued in 2008 for "proven and cost effective" missile defense. President Obama promised "phased and adaptive" missile defense. But other than pairing adjectives, Obama has done little to build a working missile defense.

His first move was backward: gutting much of the Bush missile defense plan. That included canning land-based interceptors in Poland that would have shielded our troops and allies in Europe from the growing threat of Iranian nuclear missiles.

He also cut back on the number of planned ground-based interceptors in Alaska, designed to protect from a North Korean attack.

In return for those cutbacks, we're getting the phased-and-adaptive approach ... which turns out to be little more than power point slides and sleight-of-hand substitutions calculated more to avoid antagonizing the Russians than to protect U.S. interests.

But Congress is starting to wake up to the fact that the small-ball missile defense alternatives promoted by the White House aren't sufficient to meet our rapidly escalating security challenges.

Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee cut funding for a version of the Aegis cruiser sea-based missile defense. Called the Navy Standard Missile Block II-B, it was supposed to able to shut down Iranian missiles aimed at the United States.

One problem, which even the administration admits, is that the Block II-B could not be operational until at least 2020. The intelligence community believes Iran will have nuclear-tipped missiles long before that.

Worse, a recent Defense Science Board report questions the science behind the missile. Specifically, the board doubts that a sea-based missile can be made fast enough to catch an intercontinental ballistic missile in the ascent phase.

Given these facts, the committee voted to ax funding for the program.

As more and more shortcomings in Obama's missile-defense-on-the-cheap programs are exposed, the budget knives may come out more and more.

For example, over the next five years the administration has proposed spending $20 billion on missile defense for Europe and less than $5 billion for missile defense of the homeland.

Sooner or later some enterprising math major will ask why we're spending four times as much to protect European travel destinations. Once that conversation starts, further cuts to Obama's program seem likely.

"Phased and adaptive" is failing and appalling.

Meanwhile, balances are shifting. While we're reducing our nuclear arsenal, Russia isn't. It now has more nuclear weapons than the United States. China is beefing up its weapons, and the North Korean and Iranian programs keep marching on.

The White House seems perfectly content to let our nuclear force atrophy. And Congress' response to an ever-bigger missile threat is to cut missile defense.

How odd. The entire missile defense budget amounts to single digits of the Pentagon's overall budget. It is also the last line of defense against catastrophic nuclear attack. That math suggests missile defense is hardly the place for budget cutting.

"Phased and adaptive" is unraveling. The nation is increasingly more exposed. Now is not the time to cut missile defense. Nor should Congress rely on the White House to chart a responsible course forward.

Funds cut from the Navy Standard Missile Block II-B should be reinvested in other, more mature versions of the Navy Standard Missile. The goal should be to enhance those models so that cruisers stationed off the eastern United States could take out intercontinental ballistic missiles in the late midcourse stage of their flights.

Washington should also revive the idea of staging ground-based interceptors in Europe. (The technology used in this approach is more proven -- and much cheaper -- than Obama's alternative.) Increased investments in the U.S. ground-based interceptors also ought to be in the mix.

James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in The Examiner