- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

The Missile Defense Agency on Monday quietly achieved its fourth straight successful intercept of an intercontinental ballistic missile, destroying the target warhead 140 miles over the Pacific at a closing speed of 15,000 mph.

The continuing success of the flight test program is shattering the last argument of missile defense opponents, whose claims that it won't work look increasingly foolish.

For the first time, Monday's test included a track of the target missile by the SPY-1 radar of an Aegis destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones. While the ship's radar did not assist in directing the interceptor to the target as it might in an operational system, it did show how the Navy could play an important role in defending against long-range missiles.

The end of the ABM treaty now frees the Navy to use its Aegis ships to provide worldwide sensor support for national as well as regional missile defense.

One of the most difficult challenges is the need to track fast-moving warheads and discriminate them from missile parts and decoys as they streak through space. While early warning satellites can detect the fiery launch, they cannot track the missile after burnout. Forward-based SPY-1 radars on Aegis ships can add valuable tracking data and provide additional engagement opportunities.

Aegis ships could be prepositioned near a threat country to track any launches from it. Integrating such forward-based "sensors" with land-based "shooters" would expand the battle space, provide missile tracking in the boost phase, and help solve the problem of discriminating warheads from decoys.

Instead of trying to compete with the Army's more advanced program to test and deploy the primary national missile defense interceptor, the Navy is wisely emphasizing its strength in deployed sea-based radars. With more than 60 Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers operating around the world and two dozen more under construction or planned, the Navy is uniquely equipped to assist the missile-tracking mission.

Aegis ships already are tracking short- and medium-range missiles. Chinese missiles launched near Taiwan and a North Korean flight test were followed by SPY-1 radars. Aegis ships are on duty in the Middle East and Mediterranean, ready to track missile launches out of Iraq. Integrating these sea-based tracking capabilities with the battle management systems of land-based interceptors such as U.S. Patriots and Israeli Arrows will greatly strengthen regional missile defenses.

Meanwhile, the development of a ship-based interceptor is continuing, with two recent successful flight tests of the Navy's new Standard Missile-3. Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, head of the Missile Defense Agency, said in June that if the program continues to enjoy technical success the initial deployment of a Standard Missile-3 on an Aegis ship could take place between 2004 and 2006.

The Standard Missile-3 will defend against short- and medium-range missiles. It is too slow to intercept high-velocity intercontinental ballistic missiles unless the ship is very close to the launch site. So the Missile Defense Agency is considering developing a new, much faster ship-based interceptor for national missile defense, but that is just in the concept stage and is likely to be years in the future.

What the Navy can do right now is use its existing SPY-1 radars, which can follow hundreds of targets simultaneously, to supplement early warning satellites and ground-based radars with additional tracking data. This is not an insignificant role, considering the worldwide coverage, mobility and flexibility the Navy brings to the missile defense mission. And an advanced version of the radar known as SPY-1E, which would further improve the ability of Aegis ships to track missiles, is now being tested.

Taking advantage of this naval capability was not possible until now because Article 5 of the ABM treaty banned the use of sea-based systems for national missile defense. It was OK to use the Navy to defend Kuwait and Taiwan, but not the United States. President Bush's withdrawal from the treaty last June opens the door for full Navy participation in the program.

Monday's fourth-in-a-row intercept by the ground-based midcourse defense against a target warhead and three decoys is solid proof a national missile defense is well on its way to operational capability. North Korea appears to be reading the tea leaves, having said recently it will continue its moratorium on testing longer-range missiles beyond 2003. After all, why spend huge sums developing missiles if there are effective defenses against them?

As more progress in missile defense is demonstrated and a worldwide, layered defense including Aegis ships begins to take shape, it is a good bet more countries will lose interest in developing weapons the U.S. and its allies can defeat.

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