In sharp contrast to the previous administration, the President Barack Obama made sweeping changes to our nations missile defense portfolio last year. It slashed the Missile Defense Agency budget by $1.2 billion, reduced the planned number of missile interceptors in Alaska that were intended to protect the U.S. homeland, cut nearly all investments in future capabilities, and dramatically changed missile defense plans for Europe.
Yet it appears the Obama administration is now quietly shifting its missile defense policy. Perhaps the policy change is finally being driven by operational and threat analysis. Or perhaps it was a realization that these policy changes are harder to implement than first thought and more costly over the long-term. Nevertheless, the presidents Fiscal Year 2011 budget request to be released on February 1 will be the litmus test for whether the administration is truly committed to its missile defense policy or merely paying it — and our nation and allies — lip service.
The administrations policy cannot be funded if the missile defense budget remains flat. There are simply no more future programs like Airborne Laser, Kinetic Energy Interceptor and Multiple Kill Vehicle to take money from. Unless the Administration decides to further cut the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, take resources from critical programs such as testing and targets, or perhaps slow roll the implementation of its new policy, it cannot follow through on its stated commitments. A better solution is to restore top line funding for missile defense.
Homeland Missile Defense: Last year, the Administration cut the GMD system — a system designed and fielded to protect the U.S. homeland from long-range ballistic missiles — by 35-percent. It reduced the number of planned interceptors in Alaska and California from 44 to 30, terminated construction of a third missile field in Alaska, curtailed GMD development and planned to close down key GMD production lines. I argued against these substantial and short-sighted cuts during congressional debate on the defense bill last spring.
These interceptors and a healthy industrial base are needed for flight-testing and long-term sustainment of the GMD system. Construction on the third missile field in Alaska was already well underway. Finishing it was a logical step. Once completed, the missile field would provide the U.S. with more protection. Soon after, the Pentagon reached similar conclusions. Its own analysis showed the need for seven additional interceptors. Additionally, in October, the secretary of defense reversed a previous decision by directing that construction on the Alaskan missile field be completed and interceptors placed in half of its fourteen holes to hedge against unforeseen threat developments. For the foreseeable future, GMD is the sole missile defense capability to protect the U.S. homeland from a rogue missile attack. So while the administrations most recent changes are welcome, they must be followed by continued support and funding in the budget.
European Missile Defense: In September, the administration announced a new policy for missile defense in Europe, claiming that the new Phased Adaptive Approach would provide more comprehensive coverage sooner, rely on more proven technology, and be more cost-effective than previous plans. Some also claimed the new approach would be more agreeable to Russia. However, as details have emerged, officials now acknowledge it will cost more, necessitate additional missile defense-capable ships, and require significant investments to develop new technical concepts. Full coverage of Europe and further protection of the United States comes later than previously planned and depends not only on new technologies but also on new host nation agreements. Securing some of these agreements may prove difficult as Russian officials are now grumbling about key aspects of the new approach such as the longer-range Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block II interceptor.
These challenges should not discourage the administration from moving forward. Indeed, there are some merits to the new approach that can lead to greater flexibility, increased allied participation, and additional quantities of missile defense assets. However, there must be a clear understanding of cost, risk, operational concepts, and allies contributions. Moreover, to mature the myriad technologies the new European approach is built on, this years budget request must contain considerable investments in key areas such airborne and space-based sensors, faster interceptors with lightweight kill vehicles, land-based Aegis, and systems integration. It would also be advantageous for the Pentagon to continue development and testing of the 2-stage ground-based interceptor — originally planned for Poland — as a hedge should any of these initiatives fall short. Last but not least, consistent with congressional intent, the administration must remain firm in the face of Russian pressure to limit missile defense.
Theater Missile Defense: The administrations shift in missile defense policy was most noticeable in its emphasis on theater missile defenses: chiefly in the $900 million increase to the Aegis ship-based missile defense system and the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in last years budget. However, despite rhetoric on sizable increases to Aegis SM-3 and THAAD interceptor inventories — consistent with a Pentagon study which recommended doubling the inventories of both SM-3 and THAAD interceptors — many were surprised to learn that the Pentagon acquired only eighteen additional SM-3 interceptors in Fiscal Year 2010, six less than initially planned.
The U.S. industrial base is sized to build four Aegis SM-3 and four THAAD interceptors per month. However, based on Fiscal Year 2010 purchases, it will be utilized to build only one-and-a-half Aegis SM-3 and two-to-three THAAD interceptors per month. This inefficiency drives up cost and affects the health of the U.S. industrial base. The Fiscal Year 2011 budget request provides an opportunity to restore, or perhaps increase, purchase rates of Aegis and THAAD to levels that fully utilize the industrial base and meet the inventory needs for commanders in the Pacific, Middle East, and Europe.
Without question, the administrations new missile defense policy creates significant resource demands: greater Aegis and THAAD inventories, the new European missile defense approach and all its associated technology development, GMD sustainment, and a new integrated test plan. The Administration is also expected to continue support for legacy efforts such as Patriot, land-based radars, and international programs.
Twenty-eight countries possess ballistic missiles which could intentionally or accidentally target the United States and its interests around the world. Of particular concern, Iran and North Korea continue very public nuclear and ballistic missile development and test programs. Additionally, China is preparing to field a next-generation maneuvering ballistic missile (the carrier killer). These threats will not wait years while we field missile defense capabilities. A lack of political will and commitment to fund these critical defensive capabilities remains the biggest risk to the administrations new policy and, more importantly, our national security. Next weeks budget request will be the first key indicator of whether the Administration is serious about missile defense.
Congressman Michael Turner, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, represents Ohios Third Congressional District.