- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

One of the most important elements of homeland defense is the plan to defend the country against ballistic missiles. President Bush reversed the Clinton administration policy of preserving the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty while conducting indefinite research in missile defense technologies. Instead, he gave Moscow six months notice and then withdrew from the treaty in June 2002, directing the Defense Department to get a homeland missile defense operational.

The Pentagon has been on a fast track ever since, working to get an initial defense in the field by the end of next fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2004. That leaves less than 400 days to get operational what is now called the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD). The goal is to build six silos for missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., and have interceptors in them ready to go by late next year, to provide a basic defense against North Korea.

But this will be just the beginning. Ten more interceptors will be added in 2005 at Fort Greely, for a total of 20. These will be test systems, but they will be ready and able to stop incoming missiles. And if the threat justifies more interceptors, they will be added. Environmental evaluations already have been completed for 40 GBIs at Fort Greely.

Even as construction of the ground-based defense is under way in Alaska and California, work also is proceeding on sea-based defenses. The Navy’s new SM-3 interceptor missed its target in its last flight test due to a cracked steering mechanism, but the SM-3 has achieved three hits, including one when the target was ascending.

An Aegis cruiser is to be ready for missile defense duty with five SM-3 interceptors by the end of next year. One year after that, SM-3s will be deployed on three Aegis cruisers, and 12 Aegis destroyers will be available to perform the important role of tracking hostile missiles. The cruisers eventually will carry up to 20 interceptors each.

Also important are the large radars needed to track and target ballistic missiles across thousands of miles. The end of the ABM treaty, which banned sea-based missile defenses, now allows the Pentagon to base at sea the big X-Band radar that will help the interceptors distinguish warheads from decoys and chaff. Basing the radar at sea provides flexibility, since it can be towed wherever it is needed most.

The radar will be on a self-propelled oil-rig platform that has sailed thousands of miles across open seas from Norway to Brownsville, Texas, where it is being modified to carry the radar, which weighs 50,000 tons and is 390 feet long and 250 feet high. When the radar is installed the rig will sail to the North Pacific to be based at sea near Adak Island in the Aleutians. A mothballed Navy base at Adak is being reopened to support the radar, which is scheduled to begin operating in 2005.

One remaining piece of the puzzle is the booster rocket that will launch the ground-based interceptors. Two companies, Orbital Sciences and Lockheed Martin are developing rockets for this purpose on a very tight schedule. Orbital’s version was launched successfully from Vandenberg AFB on Aug. 16. Lockheed’s version will be flight-tested shortly. Both boosters will be used in the ground-based defense, with five of each to be fielded next year in Alaska and California.

Missile Defense Agency spokesman Lt. Col. Rick Lehner says all construction is on track and showing good progress. At Fort Greely, the first missile silo is finished and five more are nearing completion. Eleven new buildings are under construction and 25 existing ones are being renovated. Silos are being built in California, and the early warning radar on Shemya Island in the Aleutians is being upgraded. All will be ready next year: 10,000 miles of fiber-optic lines already have been laid, linking Alaskan and mainland defenses.

Despite the progress, some Senate Democrats keep demanding more flight tests in an ill-disguised effort to delay the program and return to the Clinton policy of research but no deployment. But GMD Director Maj. Gen. John Holly says, while there is zero leeway, they are on schedule to be operational in just over a year.

Most important is to start defending the country. Then the defenses will be tested and improved in block upgrades every two years, to deal with the missile threat as it evolves.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in San Diego.

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