- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

In recent years, the need to protect the nation against nuclear-armed missiles has taken a back seat to the worldwide fight against al Qaeda and military operations in Iraq.

These hot wars dominate the news, while the missile defenses President Reagan began with the Strategic Defense Initiative 23 years ago today have all but disappeared from public notice.

The September 11, 2001, attacks revealed that U.S. cities were vulnerable and gave a glimpse of the horror nuclear weapons could produce. Thus, the attacks helped clarify the need for missile defenses. The danger since has been rising.

Today, Iran’s radical Islamic regime appears determined to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, North Korea says it has nuclear arms while increasing its missiles’ range, al Qaeda threatens new attacks on the U.S., and China adds 100 ballistic missiles a year while threatening war over Taiwan.

Most disturbing is the wide extent of the international nuclear weapons bazaar that was run by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. Today, Pakistan is friendly, but with an arsenal of nuclear weapons and large numbers of al Qaeda supporters, it presents a possible future danger of huge proportions. While President Pervez Musharraf is a U.S. ally, he is a frequent target of assassins. A takeover by radicals could put nuclear weapons and missiles in the hands of anti-American fanatics overnight.

President Bush is dealing with these dangers by continuing to deploy missile defenses and forming alliances with countries at risk. Japan, in range of North Korea’s Nodong and Taepodong missiles and China’s intermediate-range weapons, is rapidly improving its missile defenses. Tokyo is adding the Patriot PAC-3 missile interceptor, allowing the U.S. to field in Japan a forward-based X-band radar, and helping the U.S. develop a sea-based interceptor to add to both countries’ Aegis ships.

Israel, South Korea, Australia, Turkey, India, Taiwan, Kuwait and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms have or plan to obtain missile defenses. NATO is considering them, and Poland appears willing to host U.S. interceptors to protect both the Eastern U.S. and our European allies against the Middle East threat.

The administration’s 2007 budget, submitted to Congress last month, shows President Bush’s commitment to complete the missile defense deployments now under way in Alaska and California. Eleven ground-based interceptors are in place and 40 are to be operational by 2009. In addition, a growing number of ship-based interceptors will be deployed on 18 Aegis cruisers and destroyers.

The seagoing X-band radar is on its way to the Aleutian Islands, where it will track warheads and help distinguish them from decoys. And these initial deployments will be enhanced in future years by addition of new space-based sensors and multiple kill vehicles to stop multiple warheads.

The administration asked Congress for $10.4 billion for missile defense in 2007, an increase of $1.6 billion over 2006. That includes $2.8 billion for the ground-based defenses now being deployed. Much of the increase will go for extensive and realistic testing, in response to task force recommendations and in answer to those who complain of insufficient testing.

There also are increases for ship-based defenses and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), both of which had successful test flights late last year.

The Airborne Laser (ABL), the main boost-phase intercept program, which made real progress last year and is on schedule to shoot down a target missile in 2008, will get $631 million. While this is an increase over last year, the Missile Defense Agency has deferred ordering the second ABL aircraft until after the shootdown, delaying by years the operational status of this advanced system. That decision should be revisited so long-lead laser parts can be ordered early.

Most critics of missile defense have been muted since September 11, but they have not given up. They now complain the defenses being deployed won’t work and need more testing. But that undercuts the main purpose of missile defense, which is deterrence. An opponent is unlikely to spend billions developing nuclear missiles that cannot get through the defense. But he may be inclined to make the investment if “experts” keep saying the defense will not work.

The effort Ronald Reagan started is now beginning to defend the country. It is none too soon, as nuclear weapons and missiles spread around the world, amid a possible clash of civilizations. Despite the lack of public attention, fielding missile defenses remains an important priority.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide