July 13, 2000 | Backgrounder on Missile Defense
America is legally bound to defend its citizens from missile attack by mounting a national missile defense (NMD) system "as soon as is technologically possible."1 This clear mandate became law when President Bill Clinton signed the National Missile Defense Act (P.L. 106-38)2 on July 22, 1999, dramatically and permanently changing the focus of the missile defense debate. The question now is not whether the United States should have a national missile defense, but when and how Americans will be defended. The United States has finally moved beyond the restraints of Cold War-era thinking based on mutually assured destruction, which equated security with absolute vulnerability to ballistic missiles. Instead, security will now mean protecting every American from ballistic missiles that could carry devastating nuclear, biological, or chemical warheads.
The decision about when and how a national missile defense system should be deployed has been far from easy. The options on the table range from the Clinton Administration's plan to build a ground-based system to the more comprehensive Reagan-Bush Administration's plan to employ land-, sea-, air-, and space-based assets. Soon after signing the National Missile Defense Act, President Clinton proposed spending $17 billion on a land-based missile defense system that would be deployed only at a single site in Alaska by 2005. Add-ons and maintenance to this proposed system could cost as much as $60 billion over the next 15 years.3 Criticism of the President's proposal was heard immediately from both advocates and opponents of missile defense, though for different reasons.
Critics of missile defense argue that President Clinton's plan would result in an arms race with Russia and China, that the technology does not work, or that mounting a defense architecture would break the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that the United States signed with the former Soviet Union in 1972.
Proponents of missile defense point out the President's land-based system will be less effective and more expensive than other prominently discussed NMD alternatives. The ground-based system will be more expensive than a sea-based option because it would have to be built from the ground up. The sea-based option proposed by Heritage Foundation and other experts takes advantage of the significant investment America already has made in the U.S. Navy's fleet of Aegis cruisers. The ground-based system will be less effective because it must intercept warheads in space while they are traveling at their greatest velocity but after they could release their decoys. The military would have only one opportunity to down the missile before the terminal stage. Sea-based defenses can be forward-deployed near potentially hostile sites to shoot missiles down during their ascent phase--when they are most visible, not yet up to optimum speed, and have not released their warheads or decoys. Moreover, should the first attempt fail, there is still time to launch a second or even third intercept attempt.
These considerations have led Congress and the national media to focus their attention on deploying a sea-based national missile defense system using the Navy's existing 22 Aegis cruisers. This option, explained in detail in the 1995 Heritage Foundation publication Defending America: A Near- and Long-Term Plan to Deploy Missile Defenses, was developed by a team of experts that included Ambassador Henry Cooper, former Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union; retired USAF General Charles Horner, former Commander in Chief of the U.S. Space Command; and Fred Iklé, Ph.D., former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.4 The report was updated by The Heritage Foundation Commission on Missile Defense most recently in 1999 and published as Defending America: A Plan to Meet the Urgent Missile Threat. 5
Support for the sea-based approach continues to grow throughout the defense and policy communities. As the following examples show, the sea-based systems are being advocated by prominent current and former defense and national security officials, the media, long-time proponents of missile defense, and arms-control advocates precisely because they are technologically possible and will be less expensive and more effective in defending the United States against ballistic missiles.
In July 1999, a U.S. Department of Defense study concluded that a sea-based option using the Aegis cruiser fleet as its platform for quickly deploying a missile defense system is technically feasible. According to news reports, an unpublished report by the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization recommends that an architecture that includes both land-based and sea-based elements would be the best option for a national missile defense system.
The Navy's top officer, Admiral Jay Johnson, made public his support for the sea-based option in February 2000. According to The Washington Post , Admiral Johnson told Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen that he disagrees with assertions that a land-based system is the best option and urged that ship-launched interceptors be permitted to knock down enemy missiles.6
In May 2000, three former top Pentagon officials who had served in Democratic administrations made clear their opposition to President Clinton's missile defense proposal and urged him to support sea-based missile defense. Former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and former Deputy Secretaries of Defense John Deutch and John White said a sea-based system would be "cheaper and technically less risky" than a ground-based system.7
Numerous editorials in such respected dailies as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Detroit News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram , and Washington Times supported the sea-based option.8 "They are right," The Tampa Tribune said of the proponents of sea-based missile defense. "The nation needs a missile defense that is reliable, affordable and doable. This is one case where going to sea is a far safer course than clinging to land."9 In a dramatic shift in editorial policy on missile defense, The Washington Post wrote: "[E]ventually the most effective option may include sea-based components relying on space-based sensors...."10 And on July 10, 2000, Scripps Howard News Service released an editorial page commentary that emphasized, "The better approach is...[to construct] a nuclear shield with a sea-based defense. Because of their mobility...ships can respond to changing world conditions.... The question of decoys becomes moot, and hitting missiles in their hot boost phase is easier than hitting them as they close in on you."11
As support grows for deploying a sea-based national missile defense system and evidence mounts that such a system is both technologically and fiscally possible in the near term, Congress and the Administration should focus their efforts now on implementing the mandate embodied in the National Missile Defense Act of 1999.
THE NEED FOR GLOBAL MISSILE
The proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and the testing of ballistic missiles that could deliver them by countries such as China, Iran, and North Korea underscore the urgent need to mount a defense against both accidental and intentional missile launches. In 1995, 1996, and 1999, the members of The Heritage Foundation's Missile Defense Study Teams and Commission on Missile Defense unequivocally recommended deploying a global missile defense system "first from the sea and then from space." (See Chart 1.)
Sea-based, space-based, and ground-based interceptors are all needed, since no one can predict who might launch a ballistic missile and which region of the world would be targeted. The ability to mobilize forward-based interceptors is strategically necessary to provide the U.S. military with many opportunities to intercept these missiles early in their ascent phase, before they reach intercontinental range or could deploy any decoys. The system should be on continuous alert because it will be impossible to predict with certainty when a missile might be launched. Such a global approach offers America, U.S. troops stationed overseas, and America's allies the largest degree of protection from these terrifying weapons of mass destruction.
Regrettably, the Clinton Administration's proposed national missile defense architecture is structured around only a ground-based system with one or two launch sites. The plan does not include forward-based interceptors that could counter long-range missiles early in their flight.
First , any forward-deployed interceptors on mobile launch vehicles12 and ships13 to counter shorter-range missiles must not be capable of defending against long-range missiles. The military's systems must be "dumbed down" to limit the interceptor's speed or to withhold critical targeting data from it.
Second , any interceptors capable of countering long-range missiles must be deployed only from the fixed U.S. locations, thus making it the least effective way to protect Americans from incoming warheads.
Heritage Commission Proposal
The Heritage Commission's missile defense reports have all concluded that the fastest and least expensive way to achieve a global missile defense system would begin by deploying sea-based defenses and follow as soon as possible with space-based defensive systems. The U.S. military already has invested billions in developing these defenses, which would provide a greater range of protection in a short period of time. Such prudent action cannot be implemented, however, as long as the Administration continues to adhere to the restrictions imposed on the United States since 1972 by the now-defunct ABM Treaty. These constraints include prohibiting the deployment of any national territorial missile defense or the development of any sea- or space-based national missile defense.14
As The Heritage Commission members have proposed in Defending America, without these constraints, and with full funding and the same type of streamlined management that enabled the Polaris system15 to be deployed in just four years, the U.S. Navy could begin to operate effective sea-based defenses that afford wide coverage in just three to four years (as soon as 2003 or 2004). The Navy Theater Wide (NTW) missile defense system,16 along with the family of theater missile defenses currently under development (such as THAAD17 and PAC-318 ) enhanced by integrating a variety of sensors into a coherent battle management system19 and augmented with space-based sensors, could begin defending Americans at home and U.S. troops, friends, and allies abroad in the near term. With full funding and streamlined management, the Space-Based Infra-Red Sensor system of low-altitude satellites (SBIRS-Low, or the former Brilliant Eyes system), which is necessary for an effective national missile defense, could begin to operate as early as 2004.
|Stages of a Ballistic Missile's Trajectory
MISSILE DEFENSE FROM THE SEA
Because most of the Earth's surface is covered by water, ships carrying interceptors can cruise to locations that are in reach of almost every potential trouble spot. The U.S. Navy's current fleet of 22 Aegis cruisers already deployed around the world could be quickly ordered to various locations to establish a defensive shield between hostile states and the countries they threaten with missile attack. Using them would present relatively few political problems if the need arose to deploy such defenses during a regional crisis.
Stationed near the coasts of potentially threatening states, these ships could intercept and destroy enemy missiles in the ascent phase--and in some cases, even in the boost phase--of their trajectory. In the open seas, they could target enemy missiles in their mid-course phase. Deployed close to home or near the coastlines of America's allies, they could hit incoming missiles or warheads at the terminal phase of trajectory. Each phase presents different defense opportunities as well as different threats and risks.
Sea-based systems offer the most cost-effective protection from ballistic missiles; they also are the most readily available in the near term because the U.S. Navy already has 22 cruisers deployed that are capable of fielding these systems. The earliest, least expensive, and politically least intrusive way to achieve a global defense would be to build upon the nearly $50 billion that the United States has invested in the Aegis system to provide defense against enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. The Aegis system could be upgraded for ballistic missile defense by equipping the cruisers with surface-to-air missiles that have been modified to intercept ballistic missiles.20
The Aegis system would initially provide protection against missile attacks for a limited area with the Navy Area Wide Defense21 program. To defend against longer-range missiles such as the North Korean Nodong-1 or the Iranian Shahab-3, further modifications to the system are needed, including a new design for the Aegis's missile, the Standard . For maximum effectiveness, the Aegis system would need to exploit targeting information obtained from radar and other sensors that are not located with the interceptors, such as space-based sensors. Then the interceptors launched from Aegis cruisers--whether in the Sea of Japan, the Mediterranean Sea, the North Atlantic, or the North Pacific--could successfully intercept intercontinental-range ballistic missiles launched from North Korea, North Africa, or the Middle East toward targets around the world, including the United States.
System Costs and Benefits
For a total of $2 billion to $3 billion, and with streamlined Navy management, the first generation of an NTW missile defense system could begin operations in just three to four years. Eventually, but in no more than six years, 650 of the Navy's fast, capable missile interceptors could be deployed on its 22 Aegis cruisers covering almost 70 percent of the Earth's surface.22
This funding level would be sufficient to connect external sensors, including space-based sensors, to the Aegis command-and-control system.23 Providing targeting information to the Aegis system from these external sensors would supplement the information it receives from its SPY-1 radar as well as enable the Navy to launch interceptors before an attacking missile could be picked up by the SPY-1. The attacking missile could be destroyed earlier in its flight trajectory, substantially widening the area that could be defended, especially against higher-velocity, longer-range theater ballistic missiles.24
Improvements in the Aegis system would be necessary to defend against more advanced ICBMs. These improvements should include a larger interceptor that has improved sensor and countermeasure capabilities to create an effective ship-based defense against some of Russia's current-generation ICBMs. Nevertheless, even at levels dictated by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) II, Russia still would retain many times the number of ballistic missiles it would need to overwhelm even a second-generation Aegis defense system during a nuclear strike.
A PLAN TO MEET THE URGENT MISSILE
The Clinton Administration is slated to make a decision this fall on whether to deploy a land-based national missile defense system. Unfortunately, the President is not currently planning to complement that system with sea-based systems. The recent groundswell of support, however, is increasing pressure on the President to consider the advantages of using a sea-based system deployed on Aegis cruisers. To create a national missile defense system "as soon as is technologically possible," Washington should:
U.S. taxpayers already have invested $50 billion in the Navy's Aegis system. For only about 5 percent more ($2 billion to $3 billion), the Navy could begin to deploy within three to four years up to 650 interceptors on the cruisers already patrolling the oceans and seas. By linking together or "internetting" space-based and other sensors with its command-and-control system for these interceptors, the NTW defense system could provide an effective global defense against most long-range ballistic missiles.
However, as the Pentagon made public in 1995, the Navy's missile defense system is being designed, developed, tested, and deployed to preclude the use of data obtained from external sensors (other than radar that is located with the interceptors on the Aegis cruisers).25 Denying the use of external sensors--such as radar on forward-based Aegis cruisers, ground-based radar for THAAD, airborne sensor systems, or space-based sensors like SBIRS-Low--would make it all but impossible to defend the American homeland. To further constrain the defensive system, the interceptors are being purposefully slowed from 4.5 kilometers per second to about 3 kilometers per second. The Taepo Dong-1 rocket, tested by North Korea in August 1998, travels at a velocity of over 5 kilometers per second. Thus, the Navy is not testing its interceptors against the capabilities of current technology in hostile states like North Korea.
The Brilliant Eyes low-altitude satellite sensor system was designed for such a purpose. Brilliant Eyes , now called SBIRS-Low, was fully funded by the Bush Administration to support both theater missile defense and defense of the U.S. homeland. Regrettably, the Clinton Administration cut funding for this important program and all space-based development activities. At Congress's urging,26 successors of the Brilliant Eyes program have moved forward, but slowly. If a space-based, low-altitude sensor system is to be deployed on a time frame that coincides with the earliest possible deployment date for the NTW system (2003 to 2004), it must be fully funded and placed under the management of a strong systems engineer/architect. This is what the Defense Science Board recommended in 1996.27 In a cover letter to Undersecretary of Defense Paul Kaminski accompanying its report, Board Chairman Craig Fields noted that there are "no technical obstacles to proceeding with a near-term SMTS [Space and Missile Tracking System]28 deployment decision." Although the Defense Science Board recommended planning for an initial deployment date of 2004, it acknowledged that it is possible to begin deployment in 2002.
In the past, a board of directors that included two two-star Admirals and two civilians managed the Navy's missile defense program. No military development program of significance has had such a cumbersome committee approach. In marked contrast, the hallmark of most historic military system development projects is the presence of a single, forceful, and empowered leader at the top. For example, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke gave the manager of the Polaris program the authority and responsibility to hire and fire people, spend money, and redirect engineers.29
Recently, outgoing Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jay Johnson, has taken steps to reorganize the Navy's missile defense bureaucracy. On July 5, 2000, he announced plans to consolidate management of the program by creating an office for the assistant chief of Naval Operations (ANCO) for Missile Defense.30 Under the leadership of Admiral Rodney Rempt, the office will be responsible for a wide range of issues related to the Navy's missile defense contribution, from funding to deployment.31 The creation of this office, however, is only a first step toward implementing streamlined management.
U.S. friends and allies around the world could play important roles in providing an effective global defense against ballistic missile attack from rogue states, which the Administration now calls "states of concern." For example, participating states could provide ground-based radar sites or the basing support for air-based sensors. Japan's and Taiwan's increased interest in sea-based defenses--using Aegis cruisers--highlights the potential for cooperation.
Such cooperation is in Russia's interest as well. Indeed, Yeltsin proposed this in the same speech in which he broached the possibility of making a significant reduction in strategic offensive missiles.34 Not capitalizing on Yeltsin's proposal was a strategic error of the Bush Administration, and it has been compounded by the Clinton Administration's unwillingness to continue the Defense and Space Talks. Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to understand the importance of missile defense.35 In fact, there are plans for the United States and Russia to conduct joint exercises of short- and medium-range missile defense systems.36
China has begun to react negatively to the prospect of U.S. cooperation with Japan and Taiwan for wide-area defenses that could make its ballistic missiles less intimidating. It is very important that the United States remain firm in its commitments to Japan and Taiwan,37 especially in light of China's forward deployment of hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles in an apparent attempt to intimidate Taiwan. The United States must adamantly refute the argument that deployment of national missile defense will cause an arms race in this region.38 Notably, defenses are needed for the 100,000 U.S. troops that are stationed there to protect America's security interests in Asia. They are potential targets for ballistic missiles launched from North Korea.
The Taepo Dong-1 launch attempted by North Korea on August 31, 1998, demonstrated the serious threat to the United States posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles around the world. In fact, due to the current self-imposed constraints on the military, it is doubtful that even a crash program would have defenses ready before countries like North Korea and Iran could launch an ICBM attack or threaten America and its allies. Several rogue states and terrorist groups could launch shorter-range missiles from ships lying close to U.S. coasts, which would threaten about half of the U.S. homeland. And Russia and China continue to modernize their ICBMs that have threatened the United States for some time.
Yet the Clinton Administration continues to adhere to the legally defunct ABM Treaty, allowing it to prejudice its decisions against selecting the most effective, most affordable, and nearest-term missile defenses. These are "first from the sea and then from space" systems. Instead, the Administration emphasizes more expensive but less effective ground-based systems that allegedly would be more consistent with the ABM Treaty.
Ballistic missiles pose a clear, present, and growing danger to America and her allies. The more ballistic missiles proliferate, the more evident it becomes that strategic defenses against these weapons of mass destruction are necessary. The only real question should be whether the nation's leaders will meet this challenge tentatively, in piecemeal fashion, which would require more funds, or more directly, which ultimately would also be the most cost-effective approach. Washington should ensure that the military is able to protect Americans by choosing the more direct route, deploying an effective sea-based missile defense system utilizing the Navy's Aegis cruisers to jumpstart a global defense system in the near term.
Jack Spencer is Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies.
1. The National Missile Defense Act of 1999 states: "It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate) with funding subject to the annual authorization of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for National Missile Defense."
2. The overwhelming mandate of Congress and the American people to deploy a national missile defense system was made law when the President signed the National Missile Defense Act (P.L. 106-38). The House had passed this legislation (H.R. 4) by a vote of 345 to 71 on May 20, 1999, with a Senate amendment that had been passed by a vote of 97 to 3 on March 17, 1999.
4. Missile Defense Study Team, Defending America: A Near- and Long-Term Plan to Deploy Missile Defenses (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1995), and Defending America: Ending America's Vulnerability to Ballistic Missiles (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1996).
8. See "Missile Defense; The International Debate Grows Curiouser and Curiouser," Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 8, 2000, p. 10; "Bush: New Thinking on Defense," The Detroit News, May 28, 2000, p. 8; and "Hit to Kill, The Washington Times, July 7, 2000, p. A16.
15. The Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile program and the Minuteman program were conducted to meet the top national priority established by President Dwight Eisenhower to build the first U.S. ICBM. These programs overcame technical hurdles substantially greater than those posed by the NTW programs today and on the same time frame proposed here. Heritage Commission member General Bernard A. Schriever (USAF Ret.) managed the pioneering ICBM program that laid the groundwork for the successful Minuteman and Polaris programs, which both achieved operational capability in around four years.
16. The NTW system will use Aegis-equipped Navy surface ships to defend U.S. allies and troops overseas from medium- and long-range theater ballistic missiles, such as North Korea's Nodong-1 and Iran's Shahab-3. See /static/reportimages/8CE982EB1CF9D33B71A87A65831320B5.pdf .
17. The Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is a mobile, land-based theater ballistic missile defense system capable of defending against short-, medium-, and long-range theater ballistic missiles, such as North Korea's Nodong-1 and Iran's Shahab-3. See /static/reportimages/747CFD38DE6F495B8F0EBDCC4142E0CD.pdf.
18. The Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) system is used to defend fixed targets and troops in the field from short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Scud missiles used by Iraq during the Gulf War. See /static/reportimages/E7EEB358DF97EF5F9813517381FFCE1F.pdf .
21. The Navy Area Wide system will use Aegis-equipped Navy surface ships to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missile such as the Scud missiles used by Iraq during the Gulf War. See /static/reportimages/D831D1CEE97CF62788F87B3D9C1BBD24.pdf .
22. See http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/factfile/ships/ship-cru.html for a list of the Navy's cruiser fleet and current deployment locations, as well as their capabilities.
24. An example of such a missile is North Korea's Taepo Dong-1 and the next generation of Iran's ballistic missile. See Jack Spencer, The Ballistic Missile Threat Handbook (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 2000), regarding the ballistic missile arsenals of Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea, India, and Pakistan.
25. Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch explained to the Navy League on April 13, 1995, that the Clinton Administration's version of Navy Upper Tier--or NTW--defense was treaty-compliant because it was constrained to use only data from the SPY-1 radar co-located with its interceptors. See Bill Gertz, "Navy Missile Defense Shouldn't Be Issue in Talks," The Washington Times , April 14, 1995, p. A3.
29. See Donald MacKenzie, Inventing Accuracy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), pp. 137-139, 147; see also Lockheed Missiles & Space Company, Inc., Fleet Ballistic Missiles--25 Years (Sunnyvale, Cal.: Lockheed Missiles & Space Company, Inc., n.d.).
30. Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), "Navy Establishes Missile Defense Office," News Release No. 383-00, July 5, 2000, at http://www.defenselink.mil/cgi-bin/dlprint. See also Robert Holzer, "U.S. Navy to Consolidate Missile Defense Management," Defense News, July 17, 2000, p. 6.
33. Statement by the President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, "On Russia's Policy in the Field of Limiting and Reducing Armaments," Kremlin International News Broadcast, January 29, 1992. See also Yeltsin's formal proposal to the U.N. General Assembly on January 31, 1992, in "Summit at the U.N.; Excerpts from Speeches by Leaders of Permanent Members of U.N. Council," The New York Times, February 1, 1992, p. 5. Yeltsin's proposed deep reductions in offensive nuclear weapons were incorporated in the START II Treaty.
34. Yeltsin proposed both making deep reductions in the numbers of ICBMs and building missile defenses--laying bare Russia's hypocrisy in claiming now that building defenses would place deep ICBM reductions at risk. Washington and Russia should work to establish a cooperative regime of mutual security and a joint global defense, not mutually assured destruction grounded in the old ABM Treaty.
35. See Michael L. Gordon, "Putin Suggesting Alternative Plan on Missile Defense," The New York Times, June 3, 2000, p. A01, regarding Putin's proposal for a pan-European boost-phase missile defense system, and Associated Press, "Text of the Agreement Reached in Moscow," June 4, 2000, for Putin's acknowledgment that ballistic missiles pose a threat to the international community.
37. The United States has a bilateral security commitment with Japan to defend it from external attack. As provided by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is also committed to providing Taiwan with the means to defend itself from external attack.