On February 2, 2009, Iran successfully launched a satellite into
orbit using a rocket with technology similar to that used in
long-range ballistic missiles. On May 20, 2009, Iran test-fired a
1,200-mile solid-fueled ballistic missile. North Korea attempted to
launch a satellite on April 6, 2009, which, while failing to place
the satellite in orbit, delivered its payload some 2,390 miles away
in the Pacific Ocean. This was followed by a North Korean explosive
nuclear weapons test on May 25, 2009. The ballistic-missile threat
to the U.S. and its friends and allies is growing. Under these
circumstances, common sense would dictate that the Obama
Administration support full funding for the U.S. missile defense
What does the Administration do? On April 6, 2009, Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates announced that the Obama Administration's
fiscal year (FY) 2010 broader defense budget would reduce
the ballistic-missile budget by $1.4 billion. This reduction was
applied against an undisclosed baseline. The defense budget itself
was released on May 7, 2009. The budget reveals that overall missile
defense spending in FY 2010, including for the Missile Defense
Agency (MDA) and the Army, will be reduced to $9.3 billion from
$10.92 billion in FY 2009. This $1.62 billion total reduction
represents an almost 15 percent decline in U.S. military spending.
This budget can be charitably described as a lackadaisical approach
by the Obama Administration to meet the urgent requirement of
defending Americans and U.S. friends and allies against
This weak response by the Obama Administration comes at a time
when polls show that Americans, by overwhelming margins, want the
federal government to protect them against missile attack. A May
7-10, 2009, poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for the
Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance reveals that 88 percent of the
respondents believe that the federal government should field a
system for countering ballistic missiles capable of carrying
weapons of mass destruction.
Unfortunately, the limits in the overall defense budget adopted
by Congress make restoring funding to the missile defense program
difficult. Nevertheless, Congress should seek both near- and
long-term approaches to funding the missile defense program.
Congress should also explore options for strengthening missile
defense by better using the resources that are available under an
admittedly inadequate defense budget.
Further, Congress and the American people need to be reminded
that while the United States has made progress in positioning
missile defense systems in the field in recent years, the U.S.
remains highly 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 Obama
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 earlier this year.The proposal 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 continued to languish. In accordance
with the recommendations of the Independent Working Group, Congress
should take the following steps:
- Attempt to restore funding to the overall missile defense
program to build additional interceptors in Alaska, California, and
Europe for countering long-range missiles;
- Support the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) system (which allows
more than one kill vehicle to be launched from a single booster)
that the Obama Administration wants to terminate;
- Adopt language for preserving options for the continued
development of the Airborne Laser (ABL) system;
- Provide support for continued pursuit of boost-phase missile
defenses using modified air-to-air missiles;
- Strengthen the Obama Administration's own proposals for
aggressive pursuit of sea-based missile-defense systems; and
- Adopt a finding that identifies ballistic missiles that transit
space as space weapons.
Defending America: Some Progress, Much
The Bush Administration made significant progress toward an
effective defense against ballistic missiles. The greatest advances
were in the policy area. President George W. Bush kicked off the
effort to change the Clinton Administration's policies of shrinking
missile defense with a speech on May 1, 2001, to the faculty and
students of the National Defense University. In this speech,
President Bush 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 any
development, testing, and deployment of effective defenses against
On January 9, 2002, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)
announced the findings of the Nuclear Posture Review, a 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 implemented, this layered defense will
be able to intercept ballistic missiles in the boost, midcourse,
and terminal phases of flight.
The Bush Administration also made significant advances in
increasing funding levels for missile defense research,
development, and deployment. In FY 2001, during which the last
Clinton budget was released, funding for the Ballistic Missile
Defense Organization (now the Missile Defense Agency) was $4.8
billion. This higher 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, under
the first Bush budget, funding increased to $7.8 billion. The
projected expenditure level for the current fiscal year for a
broader missile defense program, which extends to the services, is
$10.92 billion-- the product of the last Bush Administration
On the other hand, the American people remain vulnerable to
ballistic missile attack because missile defense programs have
lagged behind advances in policy, funding, and the missile threat.
To some extent, this was unavoidable. A policy for deploying
effective missile defenses had to precede the fielding of the
defenses, and the necessary funding must be in place to move the
programs forward. However, Americans remain vulnerable because
opponents of missile defense have forced the Bush Administration
and proponents in Congress to compromise on the most effective
The most important of these regrettable compromises is 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 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. By the end of FY 2008, 18 Aegis had
been upgraded to give them ballistic missile defense
capabilities. Finally, the Navy is fielding the
existing Standard Missile-2 Block IV for countering short-range
missiles in the terminal phase of flight.
Despite the progress with sea-based missile defense systems,
they should be more advanced. An accelerated approach to fielding
sea-based ballistic missile defenses was described by Ambassador
Cooper and Admiral J. D. Williams 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 question before Congress today is whether the Obama
Administration's missile defense proposal will build on the
progress made in the Bush Administration--or undermine it. The
outlook is not promising.
America's Vulnerability to Missile
Attack: 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 defense." 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 surely be shattered.
This misunderstanding is the result of a widespread acceptance
of the rhetoric from political leaders who claim they seek
to defend the American people, which includes President Obama.
Americans may come to understand the extent of their vulnerability
only after an 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 lesson for 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 missile defense proponents in
Congress, first and foremost, must encourage Americans to demand,
unequivocally, that the Obama Administration and Congress as a
whole do their utmost to defend them. Currently, it is clear that
neither is doing all that should be done.
The Obama Missile Defense Proposal
In accordance with its overall reduction in the missile defense
budget, the Obama Administration is proposing to scale back or
terminate a number of missile defense programs. The news is not all
bad, however, as the Administration is also proposing to boost
funding and activities in limited areas, despite the reductions in
the overall program. The programmatic proposals in the Obama
Administration missile defense plan are:
Proposal 1: Cap the number of fielded interceptors for
countering long-range missiles at 30. The missile defense
program that the Obama Administration inherited from the Bush
Administration projected the fielding of 44 ground-based midcourse
defense (GMD) interceptors for countering long-range missiles in
Alaska and California. Additionally, the Bush Administration signed
an agreement with the Czech Republic on July 8, 2008, to field a
missile defense radar in that country, and with Poland on August
14, 2008, to field an additional ten variants of the GMD
interceptor in that country. The Obama Administration's missile
defense budget would cap the interceptors in the U.S. at 30.
Regarding the program for fielding the interceptors in Poland, the
Obama Administration's budget permits only the continuation of
planning and design work. Funding for other elements of the program
for Poland and for the fielding of an anti-missile radar in the
Czech Republic is deferred. Future policy reviews will determine
the future of fielding both the interceptors and radar in
Proposal 2: Terminate the MKV program for defeating
countermeasures in the midcourse stage of flight. The MKV
program is designed to house more than one kill vehicle on each
interceptor missile. This would permit the interceptor to destroy
both warheads and decoys released by the attacking missile in the
midcourse stage of flight. Secretary of Defense Gates cited
technical problems with the program as the reason for its proposed
Proposal 3: Terminate the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI)
program for intercepting ballistic missiles in the boost-phase
stage of flight. The KEI program would use a powerful
ground-based rocket to achieve the high velocities necessary to
destroy an attacking missile in the earliest stage of flight,
called the boost phase. The advantage of destroying a missile in
the boost state is that it will simultaneously destroy the decoys
and countermeasures that pose significant problems for midcourse
defenses. Again, technical difficulties appear to be behind the
Obama Administration's proposal to terminate the program.
Proposal 4: Defer the purchase of a second Airbone Laser
(ABL) aircraft, also designed to intercept ballistic missiles in
the boost-phase stage of flight. The ABL program mounts a
powerful laser on a modified Boeing 747 aircraft to destroy
attacking ballistic missiles in the boost phase. In this case, the
Obama Administration proposes to curtail, not terminate, the
program. The program would retain the existing aircraft and pursue
a research and development effort designed to determine the ABL's
effectiveness, with an intercept test slated for later this year.
Secretary Gates has expressed concerns about operational problems
with the aircraft.
Proposal 5: Eliminate funding for the space test bed for
missile defense. The worst news in the Obama Administration's
missile defense budget is that it provides no funding for the space
test bed. Since ballistic missiles initially fly toward space and
ultimately through it, space is the ideal location to field
defensive systems for countering ballistic missiles. This point is
emphasized in the update report of the Independent Working Group
(IWG). The documents released by the Department
of Defense provide no appropriate justification for why the Obama
Administration is terminating support for the space missile defense
Proposal 6: Increase funding for the Terminal High
Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor, including for
procurement. Not all the news regarding the Obama Administration's
missile defense program is bad. THAAD is designed to destroy short-
and medium-range ballistic missiles at higher reaches of the
atmosphere and just outside the atmosphere. The proposal increases
funding for the THAAD program by $235 million from the FY 2009
level. Included in the proposal is a provision to procure 26 THAAD
interceptors in FY 2010.
Proposal 7: Increase funding for the sea-based ballistic
missile defense, including for conversion of additional ships to
give them missile defense capabilities and procurement of Standard
Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors. Similar to THAAD, the Obama
Administration missile defense program proposes to increase funding
for the sea-based missile defense system. Currently, the Aegis
system is designed to counter intermediate- and short-range
missiles in both the midcourse and terminal phases of flight for
the defense of U.S. troops positioned abroad and U.S. allies. The
increase is one of almost $690 million over the FY 2009 level, when
procurement funding is included. The budget will permit the
conversion of six additional Aegis ships to give them a missile
defense capability. It will also permit the fielding of Standard
Missile-2 Block IV missiles for countering short-range missiles in
the terminal stage of flight and the ongoing acquisition of
Standard Missile-3 Block I interceptors for midcourse engagement.
Finally, it will permit qualitative improvements in the Standard
Missile interceptor family of missiles.
Proposal 8: Emphasize ascent-phase missile defense
systems over boost-phase systems. While it is not completely clear
how the Obama Administration will proceed in this regard, it claims
that it is using this budget to increase emphasis on ascent-phase
defenses over boost-phase defenses. Ascent-phase defenses would
destroy attacking ballistic missiles after their rocket motors have
burned out, but before they release decoys or countermeasures.
Seven Steps for Effective Missile
Putting in place a missile defense program for the U.S. that
matches the rhetorical support for this capability, particularly
given the strengthened position of missile defense opponents, 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
emphasis now, however, needs to be on protecting the overall
missile defense program.Accordingly,missile defense supporters in
Congress need to take seven specific steps.
Step 1: Attempt to restore overall funding to the missile
defense program, including for the expansion of the number of
interceptors in Alaska, California, and Europe. The missile defense
program simply cannot provide an adequate defense unless it is
properly funded. The Obama Administration's $1.62 billion reduction
from the FY 2009 level for the overall missile defense program is
unwarranted, especially given the recent missile launches by both
Iran and North Korea.
Fortunately, a bipartisan group of House members introduced H.R.
2845 on June 11, 2009, to preserve the 44 GMD interceptors to be
located in Alaska and California and an unspecified number of
interceptors elsewhere. The legislation also provides $500
million for this purpose. This legislation led to multiple efforts
in the House Armed Services Committee and on the House floor to
restore missile defense funding. Unfortunately, none succeeded.
Now, the attention must turn to the Senate.
The problem at this point in the legislative process is that the
overall defense budget number, which is clearly inadequate, is now
set. This means that any additional funds for
the missile defense accounts must be offset by reductions on other
defense accounts. It will be very difficult, but not impossible, to
find such offsets that both avoid affecting other defense
priorities and garner majority support in the Senate. Possible
sources of offsets could be non-missile defense programs in the
area of defense-wide research and development and a variety of
operations and maintenance accounts. This would permit the
inclusion of the provisions of H.R. 2845 in the National Defense
Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010.
Step 2: Retain the MKV program. Both missile defense
supporters and critics are concerned about countermeasures and
decoys that can be used to confuse missile defenses in the
midcourse stage of flight. The MKV program is one way to address
this challenge. The program would develop smaller and lighter kill
vehicles so that more than one can be mounted on a defense
interceptor. On this basis, the interceptor can destroy both the
warhead and the decoys in providing a more effective defense. The
Obama Administration has chosen to terminate this program.
Congress can preserve the MKV and this can be achieved by one of
two ways. The first way is to apply a portion of any permitted
increase in the overall missile defense budget to the MKV program
without the requirement to offset funds from elsewhere. The other
way is to offset funding for the MKV program from elsewhere.
Keeping the MKV program alive would require approximately $300
million for one year because the broader budget is for FY 2010.
Step 3: Preserve the ABL program. The Obama
Administration's missile defense proposal curtails the ABM program
by canceling production of a second developmental aircraft. It
proposes keeping the existing aircraft as a research and
development program. In this case, the Obama Administration's
concern about potential problems with the operational configuration
of this system is appropriate. Nevertheless, the ABL program is the
primary system in development for gauging the potentially dramatic
improvements in combat capabilities derived from perfecting
directed energy weapons.
Thus, Congress should direct the Department of Defense to pursue
an aggressive research and develop effort regarding the aircraft.
In future years, this may require additional resources. If the
research and development results in dramatic breakthroughs, which
it may very well do, Congress should then restore the full program,
particularly if the advances include ways to address the
Administration's operational concerns regarding the program.
Step 4: Field a system to protect U.S. coastal areas from
sea-launched shorter-range missiles. In the near term, lesser
missile powers, 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
earlier this year. The Navy conducted a test of the existing
Standard Missile-2 Block IV as a terminal defense against a
short-range missile near Hawaii in 2006.
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, Congress should provide the necessary
funding to the Navy to conduct these development and deployment
activities in the context of creating an East Coast test range for
ballistic missile defense.
Step 5: Advance the Obama Administration's proposal for
strengthening sea-based missile defenses by moving funding and
management authority for these systems from the Missile Defense
Agency to the Navy. While the Obama Administration's proposal
for advancing sea-based missile defenses is fairly strong, it can
be improved.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. 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. Under the proper
management by the Navy, the sea-based missile defense program
should be able to perform ascent-phase intercepts. The Obama
Administration is now emphasizing this capability in the broader
missile defense program. Thus, it is consistent with the
Administration's overall approach. Congress should mandate that the
Navy have both management authority and the necessary funds, but
also make it clear to the Navy that it may use the funds only for
Finally, the progress in the development of the SM-3 family
interceptors offers options for fielding these interceptors on
land. In cases where fielding SM-3 interceptors provide optimal
coverage, are less expensive than alternatives, and are effective
against the posited threat, the fielding of land-based SM-3 should
Step 6: Continue boost-phase missile defense programs by
focusing on developing and fielding interceptors derived from
modified air-to-air missiles. The Obama Administration's new
emphasis on ascent-phase intercept capabilities has largely come at
the expense of boost-phase systems, specifically with the
termination of the KEI program and the curtailment of the ABL
program. Nevertheless, strong arguments remain for retaining
It is unclear from the Administration's budget presentation
whether it supports development of the Network-Centric Airborne
Defense Element (NCADE) program. NCADE would use a modified
Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) to perform
missile defense intercepts in both the boost and ascent phases of
missile flight. NCADE interceptors could be mounted on tactical
aircraft of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). Missile
Defense Agency director Lt. General Patrick O'Reilly has indicated
in testimony before Congress that the current missile defense
proposal contains $3.5 million for the development of the NCADE
system. Congress should seek to provide at least
this level of funding to the program.
Step 7: Refute the charge that space-based missile defense
will "weaponize" space. 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 a proper definition of the term "space
weapons" is irrelevant to the exercise of controlling them.
President Obama appears to have accepted the arguments of arms
First, the President's missile defense budget provides no
funding for the development of a missile defense test bed in space.
Second, his Administration has opted to accept a highly biased
Chinese and Russian proposal for a treaty on "preventing an arms
race in outer space" as the basis for negotiations at the United
Nations Conference on Disarmament.
The fact is that space was weaponized when the first ballistic
missile was test-launched by Germany in 1942 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.
Missile defense supporters in Congress need to force a debate on
the charge that space-based ballistic missile defense interceptors
would constitute an unprecedented move by the U.S. to weaponize
space. They can do so by offering a simple amendment in the form of
a congressional finding that all ballistic missiles that transit
space are space weapons. Members of Congress that vote against such
a finding would be forced to admit that they are so opposed to the
idea of using space to protect the U.S. against missile attack that
they are willing to deny a simple and irrefutable fact in order to
continue their opposition. It will serve to demonstrate how extreme
this position has become.
As Iran and North Korea are demonstrating, there are clear
trends in the increase of proliferation of both missiles and
nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration put the missile defense
program on a path to catching up with these proliferation trends.
The Obama Administration seems inclined to put the program back on
a path where it will lag behind these proliferation trends--and the
threat. If it does so, the American people and the friends and
allies of the United States will be left vulnerable. Such
vulnerability in today's and tomorrow's unpredictable world will be
profoundly destabilizing. It will increase the risk of nuclear war.
Such a war would inflict death and destruction on the United States
that would make the attacks of 9/11 pale in comparison.
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
George W. Bush, "Remarks by the President to
Students and Faculty at National Defense University," May 1,
George W. Bush, "Remarks by the President on
National Missile Defense," December 13, 2001.
White House, "National Policy on Ballistic Missile Defense Fact
Sheet," May 20, 2003.
Missile 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.
Henry F. Cooper and Admiral J. D. Williams,
"The Earliest Deployment Option--Sea-Based Defenses," Inside
Missile Defense, September 6, 2000.
"2009 Missile Defense Tracking Study,"
Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
Press release, "DOD News Briefing with
Secretary Gates From the Pentagon."
Independent Working Group, Missile
Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century:
2009 Report, pp. 37-48.
Independent Working Group, Missile
Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century:
2009 Report, p. 130.
Spring, "Ten Years Later, a Successful
Demonstration of Sea-Based Terminal Defense Against Ballistic
Independent Working Group, Missile
Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century:
2009 Report, pp. 129-130.
Lt. General Patrick O'Reilly, testimony
before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, p. 24.