December 3, 2008 | Special Report on
Moving Forward with Ballistic Missile Defense: A Memo to President-elect Obama
In a world with nuclear weapons,
America must continue efforts to defend against the mass
destruction of its citizens and our allies.
--Barack Obama, "Barack Obama and Joe
Biden on Defense Issues," from barackobama.com
President-elect Obama, during the campaign you said you were
committed to protecting the United States and its allies against
attacks that employ weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This
commitment extends to fielding defenses against such attacks that
are delivered by ballistic missile systems. Your pledge is in
keeping with the Bush Administration's policy, moving the U.S. away
from the Cold War strategy of relying almost exclusively on
large-scale retaliatory threats, including nuclear weapons, to
deter attacks. The American people should welcome this continuity
because, first and foremost, they want to be protected.
On the other hand, your "Blueprint for Change" states that your
Administration will support missile defense that is "pragmatic and
cost-effective" and "does not divert resources from other national
security priorities until we are positive the technology will
protect the American public." These statements imply that
ballistic missile defense programs are not a top priority and that
missile defense technology is not proven. Neither is true. Further, you
have made broad statements regarding the "weaponization" of
space. The fact is that an effective and
affordable ballistic missile defense system will require both
robust funding and space-based elements.
It is important, therefore, that you clear up ambiguities in
your position on missile defense. Allies like Poland are watching
and will need to be certain of your commitment to them. At the same
time, Russia surely will try to take advantage of any uncertainty.
It is critical that you move ahead quickly on your promise to
"spare no effort to protect Americans from the threats posed by
nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles."
In order to fulfill your fundamental commitment to protect and
defend the people, territory, institutions, and infrastructure of
the U.S. and its allies, you will need to propose a defense program
that includes a dedicated and robust ballistic missile defense
enterprise. Such an enterprise should include the following
- A commitment to spend between 2 percent and 3 percent
of the defense budget on ballistic missile defense.
Appropriately, you have stated that ballistic missile defenses must
be effective and that this will require rigorous testing. A
rigorous testing program, by definition, will require robust
funding. You cannot at the same time demand a greater volume and
array of testing activities and cut the budget for these
activities. Clearly, avoiding the catastrophic effects of a
ballistic missile attack with WMD is worth a portion of the overall
defense budget that runs between 2 percent and 3 percent of the
total. This commitment should come in the context of a broader
defense plan that commits 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)
- A consistent program of development and
testing. The rigorous testing program you have called for
cannot follow traditional acquisition procedures because ballistic
missile defenses constitute a complex system of systems.
Traditional Department of Defense acquisition procedures require
operational testing prior to procurement, but this is impossible
for ballistic missile defense and a limited number of other weapons
systems because the system of systems has to be built in order to
permit testing for operational effectiveness. For example, the
Department of Defense did not require operational testing of the
Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite constellation as a
comprehensive network before procurement of the first satellite. It
would have been impossible to field this very valuable defense
system on that basis.
The same is true for ballistic missile defense. It must proceed by
incremental fielding and testing steps that take place
concurrently. Further, any attempt to use the testing regime to
demonstrate a perfect defense will give potential enemies more time
to exploit current U.S. vulnerabilities.
- A layered missile defense concept. You have
questioned the effectiveness of the missile defense program. The
fact is that the basic hit-to-kill technology has been very
successful. From 2001 through 2007, successful intercepts were
achieved 34 times out of 42 attempts. Your skepticism, however, may
stem from a perspective that views individual elements of the
missile defense program apart from one another. If you examined the
midcourse defense element alone, for example, you might conclude
that it could be defeated by countermeasures designed to confuse or
overwhelm the midcourse interceptors or that it would provide
inadequate protection against a missile carrying an electromagnetic
pulse (EMP) warhead.
The boost-phase and terminal-phase elements of the missile defense
program, however, render these countermeasures ineffective, and its
boost-phase elements are much more effective than midcourse and
terminal defenses against an EMP attack. A layered defense that
includes boost-phase, midcourse-phase, and terminal-phase elements
will constitute an effective defense. You should preserve the
layered concept in the development, testing, and deployment plan
for ballistic missile defense and judge its overall effectiveness
- A plan to expand the role of the services in ballistic
missile defense. You have been silent regarding the proper
role of the services in ballistic missile defense. As missile
defense systems mature, they should be put into the hands of the
military services that will operate them. This includes the
transfer of procurement funding for these systems. This has already
happened in great measure with the transfer of the Patriot PAC-3
terminal interceptor system from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA)
to the Army. A similar effort to do the same with the transfer of
the AEGIS-based midcourse and terminal defense systems to the Navy
should be accelerated.
On the other hand, the MDA should retain responsibility for the
development and testing of new systems and for ensuring that the
disparate elements of the broader missile system, including sensors
and interceptors, can be tied together into an integrated whole
through the command-and-control network that will cut across
- The development and fielding of space-based
elements. You have stated that you will not "weaponize"
space, but the ballistic missiles you have pledged to counter are
space weapons. Since they fly through space, it should not surprise
you that the most effective and cost-effective defenses against
them will be space-based. Missile defense needs to go to space
because that is where the missiles are during their flights.
According to an authoritative report from the Independent Working
Group, a constellation of 1,000 space-based hit-to-kill
interceptors, along with replacements, would cost less than $20
billion to build, launch, operate, and maintain over a 20-year
period. This constellation alone would constitute a global, layered
missile defense capability, although it should be augmented with
land-based, sea-based, and air-based elements. In fact, this
broader approach is consistent with an acquisition strategy that
properly balances near-term and longer-term technologies for
- A program for cooperation with U.S. allies.
The missile defense program is designed to defend U.S. troops
stationed abroad and U.S. allies as well as America's population
and territory. You have confirmed the wisdom of the allied approach
to missile defense. The existing missile defense program involves
allied participation in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, and this
should continue. Key among the various cooperative efforts are the
agreements with the Czech Republic and Poland, both NATO allies, to
field a missile defense radar and 10 Ground-based Midcourse Defense
interceptors on their territories to counter longer-range
If you want to send a signal that the U.S. intends to use missile
defense cooperation to reinforce its alliance relationships, you
should make it clear that the U.S. will move to implement these
agreements. What you should not do is adopt the position of French
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who urged a moratorium on the fielding
of missile defenses in Europe. President Sarkozy's statement serves
to undermine NATO solidarity in favor of the program, which was
adopted by NATO leaders in Bucharest, Romania, in the spring.
- Recognition that ballistic missile defense has been the
least developed component of the forces necessary to protect and
defend the U.S. and its allies. Appropriately, you have
stated that you seek a variety of forces to defend the U.S. and its
allies against attacks with WMD. Clearly, counterterrorism,
air, cruise missile, and civil defenses have a role to play.
You must also recognize, however, that the ballistic missile
defense force has started from a weakened position because--unique
among the various defense forces--the development, testing, and
deployment of ballistic missile defenses were sharply curtailed by
treaty during a roughly 30-year period (1972-2002). This treaty was
the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the former Soviet
Union. As a result, until recently, U.S. ballistic missile defense
forces were losing ground to the development of ballistic missile
delivery systems by potential enemies. While the U.S. has started
to gain ground against foreign ballistic missile capabilities since
President Bush withdrew the U.S. from the ABM Treaty, the program
still lags behind the projected threat. You must recognize that the
momentum needed to catch up with the projected growth in ballistic
missile capabilities and threats has to be sustained.
If the U.S. or its allies were attacked with ballistic missiles
carrying WMD warheads, the world would be forever transformed. The
American people would be rather unforgiving of a President who
failed to demonstrate that he had done his utmost to field a
defense against such an attack, and a successful attack on an ally
would almost certainly undermine the credibility of U.S. security
commitments and the overall alliance system led by the United
The requirements of today's world demand a strategy to protect
and defend the U.S. and its allies. The Cold War strategy of
retaliation-based deterrence is insufficient. Ballistic missile
defenses are therefore an essential component of a
protect-and-defend strategy for the 21st century.
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; Peter Brookes is Senior
Fellow for National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute; and James Jay Carafano,
Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Davis Institute and Senior
Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the
Allison Center at The Heritage Foundation.
Show references in this report
Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr., Ph.D., "The Cost of Missile Defense,"
and Baker Spring, "Weapons in Space," in 33 Minutes: Protecting
America in the New Missile Age (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage
Foundation, 2008), pp. 15-19 and 63-66. See also Independent
Working Group, Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, &
the Twenty-First Century: 2007 Report (Cambridge, Mass.:
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 2007). As of this writing,
an updated version of this report is scheduled for publication in
"Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Defense Issues."
Independent Working Group, Missile Defense, the Space
Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century.
For an explanation of this balanced acquisition strategy, see
Ambassador J. D. Crouch et al., "Missile Defense &
National Security: The Need to Sustain a Balanced Approach,"
National Institute for Public Policy Information Series
Report No. 0087, October 20, 2008.
"Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Defense Issues."