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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: U.S. needs ground defense system

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While clear military consequences may dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, we must also plan for the worst -- by bolstering our homeland missile defense shield to defend against the intercontinental ballistic missiles that Iran is already developing ("For Iran, no red line means green light," Commentary, Oct. 24).

The first Iranian space satellites reached orbit on the back of multistage rockets virtually identical to long-range ICBMs, just as the Soviet Union's first ICBMs were versions of the rocket that launched Sputnik into orbit. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system in Alaska and California already provides a limited defense of the U.S. homeland against an Iranian missile. The operational system is three-for-three in recent tests and enjoys wide bipartisan support, including from President Obama.

Installing a new site on the East Coast would be the most cost-effective way to improve this defense, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences. We could intercept Iranian missiles earlier in their trajectories and get more chances to shoot them down. The House of Representatives already has approved a study of the concept, and the Senate will soon vote on it.

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system costs less than 2 percent of the defense budget -- far less than a pre-emptive military strike against Iran -- which could lead to a long and bloody ground war. In diplomacy as well as defense, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

ADM. JAMES A. LYONS JR.

U.S. Navy, retired

Warrenton, Va.

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