One of the most controversial floor fights today will be over homeland missile defense. The House Armed Services Committee provided $100 million for an Environmental Impact Study for a military site on the East Coast to defend against ballistic missiles. It also added $357 million more to the president's budget request for the only system currently deployed to defend the homeland from long-range missiles, the Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The Rules Committee has made in order an amendment by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) to eliminate $403 million from GMD. The East Coast site is likely to be sucked into the debate when Members argue the merits of her amendment.
The East Coast site and increased funding for GMD meet common objections from opponents.
One, the threat doesn't warrant it. While it is true that Iran does not currently have a long-range missile capable of reaching the U.S., the intelligence community has assessed that, with assistance, it could have one by 2015. Other intelligence reports, including the 721 report, implicate Russia, China and North Korea for contributing to the Iranian missile program. And with or without assistance, Iran has orbited its own satellites three times, proving it is eminently capable of mastering sophisticated technology that is directly applicable to long-range missile technology.
Moreover, the East Coast site provision doesn’t explicitly say the site must provide defense against a long-range threat. Iran has the ability to launch an attack on the U.S. with short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles. All that it—or one if its terrorist proxies—needs is a place to launch this kind of attack, which could be from a ship or from South America. Although the public knows of no concrete evidence pointing to placement of Iranian missiles in South America, we know Iran and Venezuela are strong anti-American allies. Policymakers dismiss the notion that those countries may cooperate on missile deployment at great peril.
Another objection against GMD and the East Coast provision is that they fund programs that don't work. To the contrary, the East Coast site provision does not choose a specific missile defense program. It has left this open so that the military can determine which missile defense system can best provide added and necessary protection of the American people from Iranian ballistic missiles.The provision clearly states that “the director should evaluate the use of two-or three-stage ground-based interceptors; and standard missile-3 interceptors.” The Aegis SM-3 programs have impressive records and continue to improve, with an occasional glitch here and there.
Moreover, GMD does work, although it too needs to be improved. The system has two kinds of kill vehicles—the element of the system that collides with enemy warheads, destroying them before they land on American cities. Using one of the kinds of kill vehicles, the CE1, the system has a 100 percent success rate, intercepting test missiles three out of three times. The other kill vehicle, the CE2, has run into technical problems,but the rest of the system has performed successfully.
Opponents of homeland missile defense have jumped on this particular technical issue as a reason to throw out the missile defense system or justify the abandonment of ballistic missile defense altogether. This is foolish. All cutting-edge technology runs into issues that need improvement.Missile defense is no different, and attempts to slow down or cancel missile defense programs due to the pretext of “technology limitations” are almost always driven by an ideological opposition to missile defense.
Both provisions passed out of the House Armed Services Committee are forward-thinking initiatives to strengthen homeland missile defense. They should give confidence to the American people that even if their president is willing to sacrifice American military preparedness for the sake of more government largesse at home, there are those in Congress who take their responsibility to provide for the common defense seriously—even if it means taking on the president and his political appointee who heads the Defense Department. Attempts by members of Congress to weaken homeland missile defense are unwise.