In an April 6 press briefing at the Pentagon, Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates announced sweeping changes in defense
modernization. Included in this announcement were proposed
changes to the nation's missile defense program.
In most instances, the changes to the missile defense program
are at odds with the current and future missile defense needs of
the United States and Secretary Gates's own stated principles
regarding these needs. As a result, Congress and the American
people need to understand why there are serious contradictions in
Secretary Gates' announced plan.
Contradictions in the Gates Plan
Contradiction 1: Missile Defenses Are Necessary to Fighting
the Wars America Is in, but Secretary Gates Proposes Cutting the
Missile Defense Budget by $1.4 Billion. Secretary Gates is
fond of saying that he is focused on re-balancing the Department of
Defense's programs "in order to institutionalize and finance our
capabilities to fight the wars we are in today."--a point he
reiterated at the April 6 press conference.
Today's wars are the result of the fragmented, post-Cold War
threats to U.S. and allied security. This fragmented threat
environment calls for a U.S. strategic posture that is more
defensive in nature, particularly against the clear, present, and
growing ballistic missile threat rather than the retaliation-based
strategic posture designed to deter the Soviet Union during the
Cold War. Nevertheless, Secretary Gates chose to
de-emphasize missile defense by reducing its budget by $1.4 billion
in fiscal year 2010.
Thus, the first task for Congress is to restore the $1.4 billion
in missile defense funding that Secretary Gates has proposed to be
stripped from the budget. In taking this step, Congress should
state explicitly that it is doing so because defeating missile
attacks on the U.S. and its allies is essential to fighting and
winning the wars the U.S. is engaged in now and for the near term
with the disparate forces of rogue regimes and terrorist elements
around the world.
Contradiction 2: While Iran Has Launched a Satellite and
North Korea Is Testing Missiles with Longer Ranges, Secretary Gates
Is Emphasizing Defenses Against Short-Range Missiles. On
February 3, Iran successfully launched a satellite. In doing so,
Tehran demonstrated that it is developing the capability to field
long-range ballistic missiles. North Korea, on April 4,
launched a rocket that delivered its payload some 2,000 miles away
in the Pacific Ocean--although it appears that the launch was also
intended to place a satellite in orbit.
These two launches indicate that that both of these menacing
regimes are getting closer to being able hit U.S. soil with
ballistic missiles. Nevertheless, Secretary Gates restructured the
missile defense program by focusing on defenses against
Contradiction 3: The Restructuring Proposal Acknowledged the
Need to Develop Boost-Phase Missile Defenses but Scaled Back the
Airborne Laser Program. The Department of Defense has
recognized the need to maximize the capabilities of a comprehensive
missile defense system by having a layered missile defense
architecture. Such architecture would target attacking missiles in
the boost phase, mid-course phase, and terminal phase of
The missile defense program is fairly advanced in mid-course and
terminal defense missile defense interceptors, but the boost-phase
capability is less developed. The Airborne Laser Program is
designed to provide speed-of-light boost-phase intercepts of
ballistic missiles. Having acknowledged that it is important to
advance boost-phase systems, the restructuring plan responds by
scaling back a promising technology that is focused on providing a
Contradiction 4: The Restructuring Plan, Having Scaled Back
Boost-Phase Programs, Then Terminates the Multiple Kill Vehicle
(MKV) Program for Strengthening Midcourse Defenses. The
primary strength of a boost-phase defense option is that it
destroys missiles before they can release multiple warheads and
countermeasures designed to overwhelm or fool midcourse defenses.
Having scaled back these boost-phase programs, the pressure on the
mid-course systems is increased.
One option for responding to this increased pressure was the MKV
program to put many kill vehicles on one interceptor--thereby
permitting the engagement of many targets produced by the attacking
missile in the mid-course phase of flight. Nevertheless, the
restructuring proposal terminates the MKV program.
Contradiction 5: The Restructuring Does Nothing to Obtain
the Most Robust Missile Defense Capability That Would Be Obtained
Through the Development of Space-Based Interceptors. An
inherent characteristic of ballistic missiles is that all but the
very shortest range systems fly through space. As a result,
space-based interceptors offer the most complete and flexible
coverage against ballistic missile attack.
Yet the restructuring plan announced by Secretary Gates fails to
advance what will obviously be the most effective missile defense
option. According to the recently released report of the
Independent Working Group, a space-based interceptor system could
be tested within three years for an estimated cost of $3-5
A Glimmer of Hope in the Restructuring
Despite the many shortcomings of Secretary Gates' missile
defense restructuring plan, it does offer one avenue for
significant progress in defending the U.S. and its allies against
missile attack: increasing funding for the sea-based Standard
Missile-3 program. The exact amount of the increase was not clear
because it was lumped together in a $700 million package with other
The report of the Independent Working Group explains the
inherent adaptability of the broader Aegis weapons program and the
Standard Missile-3 to the missile defense mission. If the additional
funding is applied correctly and sustained beyond fiscal year 2010,
the Standard Missile-3 force can be expanded quantitatively and
improved qualitatively to engage longer-range missiles at earlier
points in the flight trajectories. Institutionally, the Navy should
be given both the funds and the authority to pursue expanded
capabilities for the Aegis/Standard Missile-3 system, including the
ability to defend against anti-ship ballistic missiles.
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
United States Department of Defense, "DOD News
Briefing with Secretary Gates from the Pentagon."
General James Cartwright (USMC), vice chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared with Secretary Gates at the
briefing and spoke to this issue, see Ibid., p. 8.
Independent Working Group, Missile Defense,
the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century: 2009
Report (Cambridge, Mass.: Institute for Foreign Policy
Analysis, 2009), pp. 26-31.
Department of Defense, "DOD News Briefing With Secretary Gates From
the "Pentagon," p. 3.
Independent Working Group, Missile Defense, the Space
Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century, pp. 24-26.