- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2008

Missile defense future

Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering, outgoing director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said on Wednesday that U.S. missile defenses are working and he hopes President-elect Barack Obama will continue the multibillion-dollar programs once he is briefed on them.

Asked if current U.S. ground-based and sea-based systems are “workable,” Gen. Obering said: “Absolutely.”

“Not only are they workable, they’ve been proven in combat” in the Middle East, he said in a farewell interview with Defense reporters.

President Bush was prepared to shoot down a North Korean missile using the new U.S. missile defense system in July 2006, and Gen. Obering said he thinks the system would have been able to knock out one or two Taepodong-2 missiles if they had come toward the United States.

Additionally, U.S. war-fighting commanders are demanding more and better missile defenses to defend troops against missile attack, he said.

“Our testing has shown that not only can we hit a bullet with a bullet, we can actually hit a spot on a bullet with a bullet,” he said. “The technology has caught up with that.”

Gen. Obering, who retires this month, said questions have been raised by critics about the 10 ground-based interceptors planned for Europe. He said those missiles designed for a site in Poland are a low-risk, two-stage version of the 22 three-stage interceptors now deployed in Alaska and California.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama, Denis McDonough, said Saturday that Mr. Obama discussed missile defense with Polish President Lech Kaczynski but that the president-elect made “no commitment” to the interceptor base.

Mr. Obama “supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable,” Mr. McDonough said.

The European interceptor has modified software and a different casing from those now deployed in Alaska and California, Gen. Obering said Its non-explosive warhead, called a kill vehicle, and the software and censors are the same, Gen. Obering said, noting that deployment in Europe could be ready by 2012.

Gen. Obering said he is prepared to brief the president-elect and his team.

Abandoning plans for missile defenses in Poland and Czech Republic would “severely hurt” U.S. defenses against missile attacks and would “severely undermine” U.S. leadership in the NATO alliance, he said.

U.S. intelligence estimates state that Iran could have a long-range missile capable of hitting the United States by 2015, Gen. Obering said.

He said he was worried that missile defense programs might be cut by an Obama administration, based on statements made early in the presidential campaign.

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