- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On Thursday June 5, 2008, USS Lake Erie, a U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser, did something many critics say was and still is impossible. That ship and her crew destroyed a ballistic missile target just before that ballistic missile would have obliterated its target.

This was the first ballistic missile defense test of the sea-based system since a Navy cruiser surprised the world when it shot down an errant satellite earlier this year.

USS Lake Erie fired two interceptor missiles that shot down the target in its final seconds of flight about 12 miles above the Pacific Ocean. The target was destroyed about 100 miles northwest of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai about 5 minutes after it was launched.

The Lake Erie crew didn’t know the exact time the launch would happen, only what their assignment would be. This is how the Navy does a full test of ship systems, the crew and the interceptor ballistic missile defense missile. Nothing is contrived.

This was the second successful intercept in two attempts of the sea-based terminal (just before ballistic missile hits its target) capability and the 14th overall successful test of the Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Program.

Ballistic missiles in the hands of nations like North Korea and Iran have been of concern for years because ballistic missiles would likely be used to deliver nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction, and many “experts” said there was absolutely no defense against them. Several even said the concept of hitting a “bullet with a bullet” would never be achieved.

Today, Navy ships have shown they can reach targets on the edge of space, almost anywhere within the atmosphere, and down close to the ground. These ships equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system have shown they could destroy a North Korean ballistic missile headed for Japan, the United States or any number of targets in the Pacific region.

China also has a more than 15-year record of belligerent rhetoric and ballistic missile build-up opposite Taiwan.

“The beauty and criticality of this test is that it allows you to add to our defense in depth” said Rear Adm. Brad Hicks, the Navy’s program manager. “It allows us to kill in space and in the atmosphere from a single platform.” Eighteen U.S. Navy ships will deploy this defensive warfighting capability in the next several months.

The Navy’s Ballistic Missile Defense Program grew from decades of Navy missile defense and guided missile ship development and President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. SDI, once derisively dubbed “star wars” by critics and most of the media, has evolved from a space-based concept into a more realistic sea and land-based “system of systems.”

On March 23, 1983, President Reagan announced from the Oval Office, “I’ve reached a decision which offers a new hope for our children in the 21st century.”

Since 1983, America’s Missile Defense effort has gone through tremendous changes in concept, budget and technological evolution. Yet President Reagan’s vision has never perished.

Today the at sea effort by the U.S. Navy and Japan’s Navy is one of the more demanding and successful elements of the ballistic missile defense effort. Japan’s Navy already deploys this capability aboard its four Kongo class Aegis guided missile destroyers.

John E. Carey, a retired U.S. Navy Commander, served aboard three Aegis guided-missile ships and in the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. He is now president of International Defense Consultants Inc.

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