On July 4-5, 2006, North Korea test launched a salvo of
ballistic missiles. Iran took the same action on November 2,
2006, and January 22, 2007. Clearly, the ballistic missile threat to
the United States and its allies is not going away.
Congress and the American people need to understand that
while the United States has made progress in putting missile
defense systems in the field in recent years, in most respects the
U.S. remains vulnerable to this threat. This is no time for
the U.S. to slow the pace of developing and deploying effective
defenses against ballistic missiles. Indeed, the Bush
Administration and Congress need to accelerate the effort by
focusing on developing and deploying the systems that offer the
A detailed proposal for proceeding with the most effective
systems was issued by the Independent Working Group on missile
defense in June 2006. The report specifically refers to
space-based and sea-based defenses as the most effective components
of the layered missile defense system design advocated by the
Bush Administration. While the sea-based systems have continued to
make progress in recent years, the effort to develop and deploy
space-based interceptors has languished.
Further, the change in party control in Congress has put a
number of missile defense skeptics in leadership positions.
For example, Senator Carl Levin (D- MI), the new chairman of the
Senate Armed Services Committee, has stated that he considers it a
mistake to buy missile defense interceptors before they have proven
themselves in operational tests. This seemingly anodyne statement
actually reveals his intention to stop many missile defense
activities, because the interceptors and other elements of the
defense must be purchased and fielded in order to be tested.
Missile defenses must be built as an integrated network of
systems; it is not like buying a small number of test aircraft
and proceeding to procure the fleet following operational
Under these circumstances, the Bush Administration and
congressional supporters of missile defense need to take the
following steps, which are consistent with the recommendations of
the Independent Working Group report:
- Formulate a strategy involving missile defense
supporters in Congress and President Bush to protect missile
defense programs in defense authorization and appropriations
- Maintain robust funding for the missile defense
- Support the construction of a "space test bed" for
- Rebut charges that the testing and fielding of missile
defense systems will cross a threshold by "weaponizing" space,
- Support the deployment of sea-based defenses to protect
U.S. coastal areas against short-range ballistic missiles launched
- Oppose efforts to deny the military the option of
putting developmental missile defense systems on operational alert,
- Shift responsibility for sea-based missile defense
systems from the Missile Defense Agency to the Navy.
Toward Defending America: Progress But
The Bush Administration has made significant progress toward
fielding an effective defense against ballistic missiles. The
greatest advances have come in the policy area. President George W.
Bush kicked off the effort to change the Clinton Administration's
negative policies toward missile defense with a speech on May 1,
2001, to the faculty and students of the National Defense
In this speech, the President signaled his intention to put missile
defense at the heart of the effort to transform the military and
position it to meet the security needs of the 21st century.
President Bush followed up this speech by changing missile
defense policy with a dramatic announcement on December 13, 2001,
that the U.S. was withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile
(ABM) Treaty with the former Soviet Union. The ABM Treaty blocked the
development, testing, and deployment of effective defenses against
On January 9, 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced
the findings of the Nuclear Posture Review, a new strategic
policy that made defenses a part of a new strategic triad. Under this
policy, defenses were paired with offensive conventional and
nuclear strike capabilities and a robust technology and industrial
base to meet U.S. strategic needs.
Finally, on May 20, 2003, the White House released a description
of a presidential directive signed earlier by President Bush that
related to his policy for developing and deploying a layered
missile defense system as soon as possible to defend the
people and territory of the United States, U.S. troops deployed
abroad, and U.S. allies and friends. When fielded, this layered defense will be
able to intercept ballistic missiles in the boost (ascent),
midcourse, and terminal phases of flight.
The Bush Administration has also made significant advances in
increasing funding levels for missile defense research,
development, and deployment. In fiscal year (FY) 2001, which was
the last Clinton Administration budget, funding for the Ballistic
Missile Defense Organization was $4.8 billion. This level of
funding was achieved only because of aggressive congressional
support for ballistic missile defense in the face of a reluctant
Clinton Administration. In FY 2002, funding for what is now the
Missile Defense Agency was increased to $7.8 billion. The projected
expenditure level for FY 2007 is $9.4 billion.
On the other hand, the American people still remain quite
vulnerable to ballistic missile attack because missile defense
programs have lagged behind advances in policy, funding,
and-regrettably-the missile threat. To some extent, this is
unavoidable. A policy for deploying effective missile defenses must
precede actually fielding the defenses, and the necessary funding
must be in place to move the programs forward. However, the
American people remain vulnerable because opponents of missile
defense have forced the Bush Administration and proponents in
Congress to compromise on the most effective options.
The most important of these regrettable compromises regards
the failure to revive the technologies necessary to complete the
development and ultimately to deploy the Brilliant Pebbles
space-based interceptor, pioneered by the Reagan and George H. W.
Bush Administrations. Congress weakened this rapidly advancing
concept in 1991, and President Bill Clinton killed it in
1993. The current Bush Administration's failure to revive these
technologies was noted early on by Ambassador Henry Cooper, former
Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, in a
2001 letter to Lt. General Ronald Kadish, then Missile Defense
Agency Director. The Brilliant Pebbles option remains
The sea-based systems for countering ballistic missiles have
fared better than the space-based programs. The system is
based on giving the Aegis weapons system for air defense deployed
on Navy cruisers and destroyers a capability to track and intercept
ballistic missiles. The interceptors consist of late-model and
new-model Standard Missiles.
As of July 2006, 11 Aegis destroyers had been upgraded to track
ballistic missiles in flight. While an incorrect system setting blocked
a test of the Standard Missile-3 on December 7, 2006, prior to that
test, the Standard Missile-3 performed successful intercepts
in seven out of eight attempts. At this time, three cruisers and three
destroyers are capable of engaging short-range and medium-range
ballistic missiles in the midcourse stage of flight with the
Standard Missile-3. Finally, the Navy successfully tested the
existing Standard Missile-2 Block IV against a short-range target
missile in May 2006. During the test, this system destroyed
the incoming missile in the terminal phase of flight.
Despite the progress with sea-based missile defense systems,
they are not as advanced as they could be. An accelerated approach
to fielding sea-based ballistic missile defenses was described by
Ambassador Cooper and Admiral J. D. Williams in an opinion piece in
Inside Missile Defense on September 6, 2000. This
approach advocated building on the existing Aegis
infrastructure by increasing the interceptor missile's velocity to
achieve a boost-phase intercept capability. It would also require
changing the operational procedures that the Navy is permitted to
use to perform missile defense intercepts.
The Bush Administration has taken several steps that have slowed
progress on the sea-based option.
First, it canceled the Navy Area Program in 2001. This
program consisted largely of the same technology that was
successfully demonstrated in the 2006 Navy test of the terminal
Standard Missile-2 Block IV. This decision deprived the Navy of a
basic building block for evolving more capable sea-based missile
Second, the Missile Defense Agency initially sought to
replace the Standard Missile family of interceptors with a
variation of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), which is too
large to fit in the existing vertical launch system. While the
Missile Defense Agency ultimately abandoned the KEI option for
near-term sea-based deployment, precious time was lost.
Finally, the Bush Administration continues to insist on
applying a firing protocol developed during the Clinton
Administration that requires Navy ship commanders to wait until the
target missile's rocket motors have burned out before launching the
interceptor. This requirement effectively prohibits the
sea-based defense from achieving a boost-phase intercept
America's Vulnerability to Missiles: A
Failure of Government
The compromises that missile defense proponents in the Bush
Administration and Congress have made in deference to the minority
of Americans who are opposed to missile defense have resulted
in a program that fails to meet the most basic obligation that the
Constitution assigns to the federal government: to "provide for the
common defence." The American people want to be defended, and if
they fully understood how vulnerable they remain to missile
attack and that this vulnerability is the result of a tendency to
accommodate the unrepresentative minority's demands for a
policy that sustains U.S. vulnerability, their confidence in
the nation's leadership would be shattered.
This misunderstanding is the result of a widespread
acceptance of the rhetoric from political leaders who claim that
they are seeking to defend the American people. Regrettably, the
American people may come to understand the extent of their
vulnerability only after a successful attack.
In general terms, the debate over missile defense has reached a
stalemate in which the proponents have won the debate at the
rhetorical level and the opponents have prevailed in preventing the
rapid fielding of effective defenses. The security
implications of this stalemate were demonstrated in 2006 when
Israel attempted to respond to the short-range rocket attacks from
Lebanon by Hezbollah guerillas. The U.S. and the Israelis opted to
forgo deployment of the mobile tactical high energy laser (MTHEL)
system for countering short-range rockets because they allowed
the promise of more advanced technology to stand in the way of the
quicker deployment of effective technology. The result was that
Hezbollah held the population of northern Israel hostage to
attacks. Deploying MTHEL would not have provided the Israelis with
a perfect defense, but it would have blunted the effect of the
Hezbollah rocket attacks.
The lesson for the Bush Administration and congressional
proponents of missile defense is that rhetorical support is
not enough. Support for missile defense must be defined by the
willingness to put readily available technologies in the field as
quickly as possible. This means that both the Bush
Administration and missile defense proponents in Congress need
to cooperate in fashioning a missile defense program that will
provide an effective defense to the American people, American
military forces, and America's friends and allies, and in short
Seven Steps for Fielding Effective
Obtaining a missile defense capability for the U.S. that matches
the rhetorical support from the Bush Administration and Congress,
particularly given the strengthened position of missile defense
opponents in Congress, will require achieving certain
programmatic goals. At the outset of the Bush Administration,
support for missile defense required changing prevailing
national security and arms control policies.
The Administration, with support from Congress, has achieved
these important goals. The government is firmly committed to
developing and deploying a layered, global missile defense system,
and the U.S. is no longer bound by the ABM Treaty. Now the Bush
Administration and missile defense supporters in Congress need to
take seven specific steps.
Step #1: Formulate a strategy for
vigorously opposing legislative proposals to weaken the missile
Further progress on developing and deploying a truly effective
missile defense system starts with a procedural step:
President Bush and missile defense supporters in Congress need
to work together to vigorously oppose legislative measures that
would weaken the missile defense program. This effort should be
directed at FY 2008 defense authorization and defense appropriation
bills. The cooperative strategy should start with identifying
actions by Congress-whether of commission or of omission-that
would clearly undermine the federal government's ability to provide
the protection against missile attack that the American people are
demanding and lead to specific measures for countering these
Step #2: Support adequate funding for
the missile defense program.
The missile defense program cannot provide an adequate defense
unless it is properly funded. In general terms, this means
maintaining the missile defense budget at levels in line with
recent years- roughly $10 billion per year. On February 5, 2007,
the Bush Administration presented its $9.9 billion missile defense
budget to Congress and the public, with the Missile Defense
Agency receiving roughly $8.9 billion of that total. Thus, the
Administration's FY 2008 budget request is generally in
keeping with the $10 billion benchmark.
The question is whether or not the Congress will move to cut
funding for the missile defense program. Since some Members of
Congress may attempt to cut funding for missile defense by
significant amounts, supporters need to be prepared with a
blocking strategy. In general terms, this strategy will depend on
both President Bush and missile defense supporters going over the
heads of opponents in Congress and appealing to the public.
This approach can work because the idea of missile defense is
reasonably popular with the public.
Step #3: Propose in Congress an
effective program for putting missile defense interceptors in
The Bush Administration's missile defense budget proposes
$10 million in FY 2008 in initial funding to establish a space
Funding for this program is envisioned to reach $124 million in FY
2013. The cumulative funding for FY 2008 through FY 2013 is $290
million. The funding proposal is categorized as one of several
"capabilities investments" that are designed to address
requirements beyond FY 2013.
Even though the Bush Administration's proposal to begin work on
establishing a space test bed is very limited and in keeping with a
slow, incremental approach, it is likely to generate heated debate
in Congress. Arms control advocacy groups and their supporters in
Congress will likely insist that the U.S. adopt a position that
prohibits it from developing-much less deploying-missile
defense interceptors in space under any circumstance and for
all time. They will likely argue that denying the $10 million
funding request is a necessary part of establishing a policy
to "prevent the weaponization of space." In short, a funding
request for a program of limited near-term substantive value will
carry large symbolic importance.
If Congress intends to have an energetic debate over developing
and deploying the most effective missile defense system
available-namely space-based interceptors-it ought to debate a
truly substantive program. Participants in the Independent
Working Group believe that such a substantive program would
provide $100 million in FY 2008, $500 million in FY 2009, and $1
billion in FY 2010 to create the space test bed. This approach
should yield a capable development test bed in three to four years.
The effort should be put in the hands of a small, competent
management team and should focus on reviving the demonstrated
technologies in the Brilliant Pebbles program. A constellation of
space-based missile defense interceptors would provide missile
defense to both the U.S. and its friends and allies.
On this basis, missile defense supporters in Congress
should propose this alternative approach to the space test bed as
amendments to the defense authorization and appropriations bills
for FY 2008 and unite behind these amendments. The Bush
Administration should accept this alternative approach and move to
incorporate it into its own missile defense program.
Step #4: Rebut the charge that U.S.
development and deployment of space-based missile defense
interceptors would constitute an unprecedented step to weaponize
Arms control advocates are currently focused on preventing the
weaponization of space. They base their proposals on the assertion
that space is not already weaponized, which is valid only if
properly defining the term "space weapons" is irrelevant to
the exercise of controlling them.
The fact is that space was weaponized when the first ballistic
missile was deployed, because ballistic missiles travel through
space on their way to their targets. The threat that these weapons
pose to U.S. security and the U.S. population is undeniable. The
superior effectiveness of space-based interceptors in countering
ballistic missiles is based on the fact that ballistic missiles
transit space. As a result, space-based interceptors are ideally
located to intercept ballistic missiles in the boost phase.
Congress needs to reject the charge that space-based ballistic
missile defense interceptors would constitute an unprecedented move
by the U.S. to weaponize space. It can do so by adding a preamble
to the amendment to provide more robust funding for construction of
a space test bed.
This preamble should take the form of a congressional
finding that the deployment of ballistic missiles weaponized
space and that the government has a fundamental obligation to
protect the U.S. population and territory against ballistic
missile attack. The preamble should go on to state that space-based
interceptors will likely be the most effective defense against
ballistic missiles precisely because ballistic missiles are space
weapons. The preamble should conclude by stating that the
construction of the space test bed and eventual deployment of
space-based interceptors is a response to the weaponization of
space brought about by the deployment of ballistic
President Bush and missile defense supporters in Congress should
also be prepared to counter proposals in defense authorization
and appropriations bills calling for the U.S. to enter into an
international agreement that imposes sweeping
prohibitions on space weapons, including by implication all
forms of anti-satellite weapons. Such legislation can be expected to
avoid defining "space weapons," but enactment of such
legislation, by requiring U.S. acceptance of an international
agreement banning space weapons, would likely have a
devastating impact on U.S. national security and cripple the U.S.
missile defense program.
An undefined ban on space weapons could be interpreted as
requiring the U.S. to withdraw all satellites that are elements of
broader U.S. strike weapons systems, all ballistic missiles and
rockets capable of delivering a payload to low-earth orbit or
higher, all nuclear weapons that can be mated to such ballistic
missiles or rockets, a wide range of electronic jamming
capabilities, kinetic kill vehicles capable of space flight, and
strike systems capable of destroying satellite ground stations,
just to name a few. The missile defense program would be crippled
because most missile defense systems have some inherent
anti-satellite capability. An undefined ban on space weapons
would effectively drive the U.S. military back to the mid-20th
Step #5: Field a system to protect
U.S. coastal areas from sea-launched shorter-range missiles.
In the near term, lesser missile powers, maybe including
terrorist groups, could attack U.S. territory by launching a
short-range Scud missile from a container ship off the coast.
Congress should express its concern about this threat and direct
the Navy to take steps to counter it.
The best near-term capability for the Navy to counter this
short-range missile threat was identified in the report of the
Independent Working Group and successfully demonstrated by the Navy
The Navy conducted a test of the existing Standard Missile-2 Block
IV as a terminal defense against a short-range missile near
Building on this successful test, Congress could direct the Navy
to deploy the existing Standard Missile-2 Block IV
interceptors on Aegis-equipped ships to provide a terminal defense
against ballistic missiles. Further, it should direct the Navy
to develop upgrades to this system so that it can perform
boost-phase intercepts. Finally, Congress should provide the
necessary funding to the Navy to conduct these development and
Step #6: Move funding and management
authority for sea-based missile defense systems from the Missile
Defense Agency to the Navy.
It has long been the expectation that mature missile
defense systems developed under the management of the Missile
Defense Agency would be transferred to the services to manage
remaining development and procurement activities. In fact, press
reports indicate that Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition,
Technology, and Logistics Kenneth J. Krieg approved a plan in
September 2006 to transfer several ground-based ballistic
missile defense systems from the Missile Defense Agency to the
Press reports do not clearly indicate whether or not Krieg's
plan extends to sea-based systems. As a result, Congress should
direct the Defense Department to approve the transfer of these
programs to the Navy. The sea-based systems developed by the
Missile Defense Agency have matured to the point that such a
transfer is warranted, as pointed out and recommended in the
Independent Working Group's report. There is no reason to wait any longer.
Congress should direct that this transfer give both management
authority and the necessary funds to the Navy, but also make it
clear to the Navy that it may use the funds only for this
Step #7: Counter attempts to prohibit
the Defense Department from putting developmental missile defense
systems on operational alert.
The Department of Defense is using a spiral development process
to advance missile defense technology and systems. This means that
it is putting developmental systems in the field to improve
them incrementally. The spiral development process is not only
appropriate for the missile defense program, but also
essential because the missile defense "architecture" is a system of
systems that must be built first in order to test it. This
characteristic also gives developmental missile defense systems an
inherent, although limited, operational capability.
The option to put the developmental missile defense on
operational alert on at least an interim basis is now at hand. Opponents
in Congress, however, may be inclined to use expedient
procedural arguments to prevent the use of developmental
missile defense systems to defend the American people against
attack. They could include a provision in defense authorization or
appropriations legislation that would deny the military the option
of using the missile defense system until all system components
have passed a full slate of operational tests.
Such a proposal will be advertised as just "fly before you buy"
common sense. In reality, it will constitute an advertisement of
American vulnerability to attack. If a country like North
Korea is thinking about launching a missile at the U.S., it
makes little sense for Congress to announce that the country
can take a free shot at the U.S. because the U.S. will not use its
limited missile defense capability.
Adopting such a prohibition would also set the predicate for an
effort by missile defense opponents to prohibit the procurement of
additional missile defense components until current ones have
passed the same slate of operational tests. This will grind the
overall missile defense program to a halt because the nature of the
system is that it must be built in order to be tested.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger observed in his
memoirs that the opponents of strategic defense fashioned a
policy during the Cold War that, "[f]or the first time a major
country saw an advantage in enhancing its own vulnerability."  In the
current era, in which there are clear trends in the direction of
both missile and nuclear proliferation, the opponents of strategic
defense are attempting to take the policy of vulnerability to the
next level by enhancing America's vulnerability to any number of
powers that obtain nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles
to deliver them, not just its vulnerability to a single superpower
rival. Multilateralizing this policy of vulnerability would be
profoundly destabilizing and would encourage further missile
and nuclear proliferation.
The proponents of the policy of vulnerability are focusing their
attention on undermining progress in missile defense programs,
paying special attention to those programs that offer the most
promise for providing an effective defense. Chief among these is a
program for fielding space-based missile defense interceptors.
The end result is that the American people are being deceived.
The rhetoric out of Washington would lead the American people to
believe that their government is committed to defending them
against missile attack. The reality is that they are being provided
a very thin defense of limited effectiveness. Congress needs
to make good on its promise to field an effective defense against
ballistic missiles, and President Bush should insist that Congress
fulfill this basic obligation to the American people.
-Baker Spring is F.
M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Douglas
and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a
division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
Needham, "Responding to North Korea's Missile Provocation,"
Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 1142, July 5, 2006, at
"Iran Tests Missiles as Fear of Attack Grows," Financial
Times, January 22, 2007, at www.ft.com/cms/s/
e8ce4b7c-aa4e-11db-83b0-0000779e2340.html (March 1, 2007).
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the Twenty-First Century: 2007 Report (Cambridge, Mass.:
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 2006), at (September 18,
"New Direction for Iraq Tops Levin's Agenda as Incoming SASC
Chairman," Defense Daily Network, November 17, 2006.
Bush, "Remarks by the President to Students and Faculty at National
Defense University," May 1, 2001, at
(April 18, 2007).
Bush, "Remarks by the President on National Missile Defense,"
December 13, 2001, at (April 18, 2007).
J. D. Crouch,
"Special Briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review," U.S. Department
of Defense, January 9, 2002, at
(April 18, 2007).
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May 20, 2003, at (April 18, 2007).
Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency, "Historical Funding
for MDA FY85-07," at (January 25,
Spring, "The Still Enduring Features of the Debate Over Missile
Defense," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2004,
February 6, 2007, at
(March 1, 2007).
Defense Study Team, Defending America: A Near- and Long-Term
Plan to Deploy Missile Defenses (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage
Foundation, 1995), p. 45.
Ambassador Henry F. Cooper, letter to Lt.
General Ronald Kadish, July 16, 2001.
Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency, "Aegis Ballistic
Missile Defense," July 2006, at (January 31,
Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency, "For Your
Information," December 7, 2006, at (January 31,
2007), and "Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense."
Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency, "Aegis Ballistic
Spring, "Ten Years Later, A Successful Demonstration of a Sea-Based
Terminal Defense Against Ballistic Missiles," Heritage Foundation
WebMemo No. 1125, June 13, 2006, at
(January 31, 2006).
Cooper and Admiral J. D. Williams, "The Earliest Deployment
Option-Sea-Based Defenses," Inside Missile Defense,
September 6, 2000.
Kills Navy Area Missile Defense Program," Defense Daily,
December 17, 2001.
Defense Advocacy Alliance, "Final Topline as of April 12, 2005," at
(August 22, 2006).
Carafano, Ph.D., "Congress Should Act on Directed-Energy Defenses
That Could Protect Israel from Hezbollah's Short-Range Rockets,"
Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 1220, September 22, 2006, at
(February 1, 2006).
Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency, "Missile Defense
Agency Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08) Budget Estimates," 07-MDA-2175,
January 31, 2007, at (February 13,
Ibid., pp. 21-22.
Lewis, "What If Space Were Weaponized? Possible Consequences for
Crisis Scenarios," Center for Defense Information, July 2004,
at (April 18, 2007).
Ibid., p. 12.
Sprenger, "House Dems Eye Legislation to Press Bush on Arms Control
for Space," Inside Missile Defense, Vol. 13, No. 4 (February
14, 2007), pp. 9-10.
Independent Working Group, Missile
Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First
Century, p. 26.
Spring, "Ten Years Later, a Successful Demonstration of Sea-Based
Terminal Defense Against Ballistic Missiles."
Roque, "Krieg Approves Plan to Transfer BMDS Assets to the
Services," Inside Missile Defense, Vol. 12, No. 26
(December 20, 2006), p. 1.
Independent Working Group, Missile
Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-first Century:
2007 Report, pp. xi and 20-21.
Sirak, "BMD System Nears Important Milestone, Says Operational
Commander," Defense Daily Network, August 17, 2006.
Kissinger, White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Co.,
1979), p. 216.
Stability Working Group, Nuclear Games: An Exercise Examining
Stability and Defenses in a Proliferated World (Washington,
D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 2005), at .