The Obama Administration's fiscal year 2010 proposal for missile
defense scales back the number of ground-based midcourse defense
(GMD) interceptors to be fielded in Alaska and California from the
planned 44 to 30. The President's proposal also puts the
program for fielding an additional 10 such interceptors in Poland
on hold. Nevertheless, Defense Secretary Robert Gates still
believes that the 2010 proposal still leaves America's ability to
defend against a long-range missile threat from a rogue country "in
a pretty good place." 
Gates's assertion should cause Members of Congress to ask
questions. In light of the effect these cuts will have on the
portion of the missile defense program dedicated to countering
long-range missiles, Gates's confidence is puzzling. Specifically,
it is important for Congress to examine the following implications
of the fiscal year 2010 cuts.
The Iranian Threat
The emerging Iranian ballistic missile threat appears to be
discounted. The Bush Administration's final proposal regarding the
overall ballistic missile defense program divided the program into
"blocks" for advancing both the technology and the number of
As it relates to countering the emerging long-range missile
threats from rogue states, specifically North Korea and Iran, Block
1 is dedicated to defending the U.S. against North Korean missiles,
and Blocks 3 and 4 are dedicated to defending the U.S. and Europe
against Iranian missiles. Block 1 defines the requirement for
countering long-range North Korean missiles as the 30 interceptors
in Alaska and California that are retained in the Obama
Administration's program. Block 3 would have delivered 14
additional interceptors in the U.S. but for the Obama
Administration's announcement. Likewise, Block 4 would deliver the
10 GMD interceptors to Poland.
Intentionally or not, the Obama Administration's decision to
scale back the number of interceptors in the U.S. from 44 to 30 and
to put the 10 interceptors in Europe on hold is consistent with a
determination that the Iranian threat is not real. Congress needs
to ask itself whether this is prudent--leading observers have
concluded that Iran has likely caught up to North Korea in terms of
developing missile technology and may now be surpassing it.
Having 30 interceptors fielded in the U.S. is assumed to mean
that all 30 will be available to defend the U.S. at any given time.
It is true that the military--with adequate warning--will be able
to "surge" U.S. missile defense capabilities. Nevertheless, there
is still a significant chance that the U.S. will be in a position
where it cannot rely on all of the 30 interceptors in the Obama
Administration's program in the face of long-range missile
Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) has rightly raised questions about
this disturbing possibility. Begich has made available the Missile
Defense Agency's description of problems with GMD interceptors in
Missile Field 1 at Fort Greely, Alaska, and how Missile Field 2,
also located at Fort Greely, will resolve these problems and
potentially increase the overall readiness of the long-range
missile defense system.
It is assumed that the Obama Administration is going to fill any
gaps in U.S. and allied vulnerability to long-range missile strikes
with follow-on systems to the GMD interceptors. This is a dangerous
assumption. While future sea-based interceptors derived from the
Navy's Standard Missile-3 missile defense interceptors could be
given the capability to intercept long-rang missiles, it is far
from certain that the Obama Administration will take this step. What
is certain, however, is that the Obama Administration is not going
to support the development of even more effective space-based
The Obama Administration has requested a $577 million increase
in research and development funding for sea-based missile defense,
which it claims is in part for countering long-range missiles. The
sea-based program is to field roughly 220 anti-missile interceptors
through 2015, but it is unclear what number of those will be
capable of countering long-range missiles.
On the other hand, the Administration has mounted no visible
opposition to a provision in the House Defense Appropriations Bill
to cut $50 million out of the program. Further, the Obama
Administration has moved to end the Multiple Kill Vehicle program.
This program was slated to assist in the fielding of new
generations of Standard Missile-3 interceptors. The termination of
the program could both delay and make more expensive the effort to
give the sea-based missile defense system the ability to counter
The logical alternative for follow-on systems to counter
long-range missiles is space-based interceptors. In this case, 1,000
interceptors located in orbit would provide a robust defense
against rogue state missile attack. Yet the Obama Administration's
missile defense program provides no funding for the development of
Playing Catch Up
The U.S. missile defense program needs to catch up to the
evolving rogue state missile threat. In large measure, this
requires improving missile defense technology that was severely
hampered for roughly 30 years by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile
Treaty with the former Soviet Union. Having withdrawn from the
treaty in 2002, the U.S. is free to pursue a full array of
Catching up to the threat, however, also requires a certain
number of missile defense interceptors and supporting systems.
Advanced technology can ease the pressures to field higher numbers
of interceptors, but the numbers still need to be large enough to
field an effective defense for the United States and its allies. As
it relates to systems for countering long-range missiles in
particular, Congress needs to insist that the Obama
Administration's program includes enough interceptors.
Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow National Security Policy
in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies,
a division the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
Department of Defense, "DOD News Briefing with Secretary Gates from
the Pentagon," April 6, 2009.
Missile Defense Agency, "Fiscal Year 2009 (FY
09) Budget Estimates Overview," January 23, 2008, p. 6.
Ibid., pp. 10, 13, 15.
Independent Working Group, Missile Defense,
the Space Relationship, and the Twenty-First Century
(Cambridge, MA: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 2009), pp.
Department of Defense, "Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Request: Summary
Justification," May 2009, pp 3-35-3-36.
Independent Working Group, Missile Defense,
the Space Relationship, and the Twenty-First Century, pp.