March 23, 1999

March 23, 1999 | News Releases on Missile Defense

Heritage Foundation Commission Proposes Global Missile Defense

WASHINGTON, MARCH 23, 1999-A Heritage Foundation blue-ribbon study commission has proposed a sea-based missile defense system that could be built in just four years at a cost of $8 billion.

The missile defense system outlined by the Heritage Foundation commission would be less expensive, more effective and quicker to deploy than the ground-based system proposed by the Clinton administration.

The proposed sea-based system would cost less than half of what the administration estimated in a recent report leaked to The Washington Post. "The administration's estimates are pure fiction," says Heritage Foundation Vice President Kim Holmes, head of the think tank's Davis International Studies Center and an editor of the commission report. "They are political numbers designed to boost their own missile-defense plan at the expense of a more effective plan."

A sea-based system would upgrade the Navy's Aegis defense system-created two decades ago to protect the U.S. fleet from cruise missiles-to track and destroy missiles launched at the United States, its allies, or troops in the field. It would eventually add space-based sensors to help detect missile launches. Ballistic missiles can be armed with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The 14-member Heritage Foundation commission, chaired by Amb. Henry Cooper, former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, says the administration's proposed ground-based missile defense system is actually the more expensive plan. Independent estimates show that the first ground-based site alone would cost about $25 billion and take eight to nine years to build. Building the multiple sites necessary to effectively defend the United States could cost an additional $25 billion and take another five to seven years to complete, the commission says.

Sea-Based System More Effective

The Heritage Foundation commission also says a sea-based system is more effective, able to cover a much larger area than a single ground-based site. "The American taxpayer has already invested $50 billion in the U.S. Navy's Aegis system," the commission says in its report. "For about 5 percent more ($2.5 billion to $3 billion), the Navy could in three to four years deploy 650 fast, capable missile interceptors on 22 Aegis cruisers already patrolling the seas, covering almost 70 percent of the earth's surface."

The commission also recommends building space-based sensors as a follow-on to the Navy system. The Space-Based Infra-Red Sensor system would use low-altitude satellites (SBIRS-Low) to detect targets and relay tracking data directly to intercepting missiles launched from the Aegis destroyers. SBIRS-Low would cost about $5 billion and help the Navy system protect the widest possible area, the commission says.

And Faster to Deploy

Updating the Aegis system and building the SBIRS-Low could be completed in far less time than would be required to deploy a ground-based system, according to the commission. Operations for a state-of-the-art Aegis system could begin as early as 2002 to 2003, while the SBIRS-Low could start functioning as early as 2003. But this won't happen unless anti-missile protection is made a "top national priority" and full funding is acquired, the report notes.

Effective global missile defense requires the participation of U.S. allies as well, the commission says. For example, participating states can provide ground-based radar sites that cooperate with the Navy's global network of sensors, significantly widening the protected area. "The recent report of increased Japanese interest in sea-based defenses-using Aegis cruisers previously purchased from the United States-highlights the potential for cooperation," the commission says.

ABM Treaty Should Not Block Missile Defense

The administration's attempt to build a missile defense system is further constrained by its belief that the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty between the United States and the former Soviet Union is still binding, the commission says. But that treaty lapsed when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the commission says. Continued adherence to the ABM treaty is "imprudent and unnecessary" and has "frustrated the development of relatively inexpensive, wide-area defense systems to defend America and its overseas troops, friends and allies," the commission says. "No effective defense of the entire United States can be built consistent with the ABM treaty."

The Threat is Real, and Growing

Growing missile threats around the globe make it imperative that the United States deploy an effective missile defense system as quickly as possible, the commission says. Several unstable regimes, including North Korea and Iran, will soon be able to threaten the United States "with little or no warning," according to a report released last July by the bipartisan Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, chaired by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, North Korea has test-fired a missile that, with minor improvements, will be able to strike Alaska or Hawaii. And Iran is developing a missile that could reach all the way to St. Paul, Minn. All told, nearly 20 Third World nations are trying to acquire ballistic missiles.

Because of the accelerated threat, the Heritage Foundation commission recommends a streamlined management structure to speed completion of sea- and space-based defenses. The Navy's missile defense program is currently overseen by a board of directors that includes two two-star admirals and two civilians, but "no military development program of significance has ever had such a cumbersome committee approach."

"The only thing standing in the way of an affordable, effective and responsible system to defend America is political will," the commission says. "The administration and Congress can end our vulnerability to attack, and they can do it for less than we spend in two years on America's air traffic and control system. Defending America from missile attack is a responsibility we cannot afford to ignore."

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