The effort to defend against Iran‘s missiles took a new turn in late September when Washington delivered an X-band radar manned by 120 U.S. personnel to the first permanent U.S. military base in Israel.
Iran’s missiles are a real and growing threat to U.S. forces and allies in the Middle East. Add the nuclear weapons Tehran is determined to acquire and Iran’s longer-range missiles will be a threat to Europe and even the United States. The choice next Tuesday is between a candidate who supports missile defense and one who does not.
The radar sent to Israel is the same as the high-powered transportable model now operating in northern Japan. It is ideal for detecting short- and medium-range missiles such as Iran’s Scuds that can reach U.S. bases in Iraq and its Shahab-3 that threatens Israel. The advantage over Israel’s Green Pine radar is that the X-band radar can track missiles from launch, providing extra minutes to intercept. A Shahab-3 flies about 9 minutes from Iran to Israel, so a gain of several minutes is invaluable.
This can permit an intercept soon after launch over enemy instead of friendly territory. But more important, the X-band radar integrates Israel’s missile defenses with the U.S. global missile detection network, which includes satellites, Aegis ships in the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and land-based Patriot radars and interceptors.
The X-band radar is at an Israeli Air Force base at Nevatim in the Negev Desert, where it is linked to the U.S. Joint Tactical Ground Station (JTAGS) in Europe. JTAGS streams real time data to the radar, helping it spot and track missiles and coordinate both defensive and offensive actions. Missile tracking data is shared instantly with Israel’s Arrow interceptors, U.S. Patriots and Aegis ships.
This consolidated defense against Iran’s missile threat will be further strengthened when more Aegis ships, with their own SPY-1 radars, are equipped with SM-3 missile interceptors.
Another enhancement will come with Arrow-3, a new longer-range interceptor now being developed in Israel, the cost of which the United States is expected to share. Arrow-3 will be able to intercept outside the atmosphere, well before a missile can reach Israeli territory.
Still another new missile destined for the Middle East is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which is now undergoing testing by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. It is expected to be operational, with its own transportable X-band radars, between 2010 and 2012. The United Arab Emirates already is talking with the Pentagon about buying three THAAD firing units with 147 interceptors to defend the Gulf states. Iran’s missile menace is more than just a U.S. concern.
And the menace is real. The Shahab-3 was first tested in 1998 and became operational in 2003. Its range has been increased to cover all of Israel. It can deliver a high explosive warhead, chemical weapons or a nuclear weapon, when Iran gets one. Iran continues to develop both nuclear weapons and improved missiles to deliver them, even as its erratic president promises to wipe Israel off the map.
In August, Iran tried to launch a satellite into low Earth orbit, but the test failed when the rocket broke apart and fell into the sea. Despite the failure, Iran is continuing to develop multiple-stage missiles that can reach Europe and North America. They will learn from the failure. It is only a matter of time before they succeed.
We do not have the luxury of waiting for Iran to get such weapons before fielding defenses, which take years to get in place. Deploying an X-band radar and other defenses in Israel and around the Middle East is prudent. And installing an X-band radar in the Czech Republic and ground-based interceptors in Poland is equally important, to protect NATO bases and cities in Europe and the United States.
Sen. John McCain has said he supports a strong missile defense, including the planned bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. Sen. Barack Obama has made it crystal clear he will cut missile defense spending. When asked what he will cut in the whole federal budget, he mentions missile defense. The choice is clear.
James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in Carlsbad, Calif.