- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

The Missile Defense Agency is moving forward toward the goal of a layered defense capability against missile attack. Given the pace of missile and weapons of mass destruction proliferation among hostile, irresponsible regimes such as North Korea, a layered U.S. missile defense program can only be considered prudent “good government.”

A layered defense is designed to intercept offensive missiles in each phase of their arcing flight path: From the initial “boost/ascent phase” when the missile burns its way upward through the atmosphere and begins it flight into space, through the long “midcourse” phase when the missile deploys its warheads and glides through space, to the final “terminal” phase of flight when the warhead re-enters the atmosphere and descends toward its target.

Layering the defense is enormously advantageous. A “boost phase” intercept, for example, may destroy offensive missiles before they release warheads and “penetration aids” intended to overcome the defense. And, if an intercept is unsuccessful early in the missile’s flight, there are subsequent opportunities to destroy it before it reaches the intended target. The more chances we have to intercept an offensive missile, the greater our likely effectiveness.

In addition, a layered defense system can help ensure success against potential offensive countermeasures because those that may hold some promise against one layer of defense may be wholly ineffective against another layer.

The initial missile defense system to be fielded this year is designed to destroy long-range missiles in the midcourse phase of their flight. Beginning with the fiscal 2005 budget, the Defense Department plans new emphasis on boost/ascent phase defense with the Kinetic Energy Interceptors (KEI) program. The Missile Defense Agency also is developing a directed energy boost phase system called the Airborne Laser (ABL). In the future, these systems could work together to help prevent a launch of offensive missiles.

The KEI program is intended to provide defensive capabilities against intermediate and long-range missile threats, including ICBMs. KEI could be based on land and at sea, providing the mobility and flexibility necessary to move our defensive capabilities to various crisis areas. KEI’s mobility and flexible basing modes are particularly attractive when regional crises are plausible in varied, farflung regions of the world.

Much as we used the Patriot batteries in the 1991 Gulf war, to reassure Israel in the face of missile attacks, we could deploy KEI batteries to regional hot spots to provide an immediate deterrent against missile use and provide a visible defensive show of force to reassure our friends and allies.

KEI, for example, could be deployed at a distance off the coast of North Korea to deny it the capability to successfully launch an intermediate or long-range missile against a target anywhere in the world from anywhere in North Korea.

Moving forward with KEI would provide a sea-based boost/ascent defense capability in about nine years, and a ground-based version in about seven years. This relatively quick development is possible because KEI largely involves existing technology and reuses existing hardware, some of which already has flown.

Unfortunately, some proponents of space-based missile interceptors have begun a vocal campaign to kill KEI before it gets off the ground. Their expressed goal is to shift resources from the KEI program so funding is available to develop space-based interceptors. This effort reflects their frustration that this missile defense approach is not further along.

Deploying interceptors in space could offer many defense advantages, and certainly should be explored. The campaign to kill KEI to make way for this approach, however, is misguided.

The challenge to those who favor space-basing is not the KEI program, which has great potential. It is that we have not yet persuaded Congress, the interested public or the defense establishment in general that space-basing interceptors is close to technically feasible, affordable or politically viable in the near-term. In addition, any program to develop interceptors in space runs into old Cold War ideological bromides against putting weapons in space. The fact space has been weaponized since offensive missiles first flew through it does not mean collapse of ideological opposition to space-basing. In fact, it appears stronger than ever.

The hard work has not been done to win over political opinion to the view space-basing is the right approach. Indeed, it does not appear the necessary movement of opinion is at hand.

Proponents of space-basing should stop trying to rob Peter to pay Paul, and address this real problem. Until they do so, the prospects will remain limited for space-basing missile defense. And campaigning against KEI is likely to result only in our having neither a KEI program nor a program for developing space-based interceptors.

While hard-core missile-defense opponents would gleefully welcome that outcome, it would not be good for the country, and missile defense advocates should not orchestrate it. Missile defense opponents need do little when proponents continue such shortsighted fratricide.

KEI is not a silver bullet. There are really few silver bullets. But KEI can contribute significantly to our security and that of our allies against growing missile threats. We need to get to it.

Curt Weldon is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.

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