NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
No early-intercept defense
A forthcoming study by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board concludes that an Obama administration plan to shoot down long-range Iranian missiles shortly after launch will not work.
Portions of the classified study were disclosed recently during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee by Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican.
“The report’s unclassified conclusion is that [Missile Defense Agency] plans to achieve an early intercept capability as part of the Phased-Adaptive Approach are simply not credible,” Mr. Shelby said June 15.
The administration’s four-phase plan for European-based defenses calls for using three versions of the Navy SM-3 interceptor missile instead of more capable and faster Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) missiles, like those currently deployed in Alaska and California.
The phased approach calls for ultimately fielding a souped-up variant of the SM-3 called Block IIB by 2020. The interceptor would be used against Iran’s arsenal of medium-range, intermediate-range and perhaps continental range missiles. In the future, the Pentagon has said it plans to use to Block IIB for so-called “early intercept” — before a missile releases its warhead and decoys.
A congressional aide said the conclusions of the report were “very shocking” when administration officials disclosed them during a recent briefing to staff members.
Missile speeds and the short times military officials have to make a decision to fire interceptors at an enemy missile means “early intercept wasn’t feasible for missile defense,” the aide said.
Boost-phase intercept is possible but only for extremely narrow target-area near-missile launch locations.
Defense subcommittee senators will be looking at ways to modify funding plans for missile defense programs this year in response to the report, the aide said.
Mr. Shelby said the report was disturbing because the Pentagon promised to develop an early intercept capability for the SM-3 Block IIB missile by 2020 that “was the central justification — as I understood it — to cancel the third site in Europe and to kill the [Kinetic Energy Interceptor] boost phase defense program.”
The third site would have deployed Ground-Based Interceptors in Poland and a radar in Czech Republic, after the two current sites in Alaska and California. That plan was rejected by President Obama, amid opposition from Russia, as part of the plan to reset ties with Moscow.
“Now it looks like the nation may be left with an inadequate defense in Europe and no boost-phase intercept capability,” Mr. Shelby said.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the hearing of the early-intercept program that “the whole issue of boost-phase intercept is an extraordinarily difficult technical challenge.”
“And at least if someone’s broken through on that, I haven’t seen that,” Adm. Mullen said.
Critics of the Phased Adaptive Approach have said that without larger interceptors, Europe-based missile defenses will be unable to defend the eastern United States from a future long-range Iranian missile strike.
The science board study was ordered by Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, in December 2009 to update an earlier report. The board was told to study whether the three SM-3 variants could be used to knock out a salvo of more than 30 missiles shortly after launch.
“Engaging ballistic missiles during this phase of the missile’s trajectory could provide some advantages leading to significantly increased cost effectiveness of missile defense,” Mr. Carter stated in a memorandum.
Types of attacks to be studied included intermediate-range missiles as well as a “clandestine sea-launched” missiles fired from a freighter, something Iran has practiced, the memo said.
Defense officials said the report is a final draft and still undergoing security review.
“Apparently the report is now being finalized and only an interim report was briefed to Congress,” said a Missile Defense Agency official.
“It is our understanding that the final report will underscore the value and feasibility of early intercept technology and the need for the Precision Tracking Space System satellite architecture to optimize early intercept capabilities.”
Taiwan delay hits Burns
A senior Republican senator plans to hold up the nomination of William J. Burns to be the deputy secretary of state because of the Obama administration’s delay in bolstering Taiwan’s defenses, Senate aides told Inside the Ring.
Sen. John Cornyn will use his authority to block a full Senate vote on the nomination of Mr. Burns, currently undersecretary of state for political affairs, until the administration approves new sales of F-16 jets to Taiwan. Specifically, the senator wants the State Department to inform Taiwan it will accept a formal letter of request from the Taiwan government to buy 66 new F-16s model C/Ds made by Lockheed Martin.
Additionally, the Texas Republican wants the Pentagon to turn over a long-delayed report to Congress that defense officials say highlights the growing air power imbalance between Taiwan’s air force and China’s military across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. The report was due to Congress 16 months ago.
According to defense officials, both the F-16 sale and the air-power report are being blocked by White House National Security Council staff aide Evan Medeiros, who is part of a group of administration officials opposing the F-16 sale because they believe it will upset U.S.-China military exchanges.
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on the Burns nomination is scheduled for Thursday morning, and once out of committee, Mr. Cornyn, a member of the Armed Services Committee, plans to place a hold on it.
State Department officials could not be reached for comment.
Tauscher on test ban
A classified State Department cable from 2008 made public on Saturday revealed the Obama administration’s strategy for trying to win Senate confirmation of the previously defeated Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
During a meeting with India’s foreign minister, Ellen Tauscher, the undersecretary of state for arms control, was quoted in the cable as saying that Vice President Joseph R. Biden was leading domestic U.S. efforts win passage of the treaty that bans underground nuclear tests.
According to the cable, made public by WikiLeaks, Mr. Biden would not “take” the treaty to the Senate for a vote “unless the required 67 votes are ensured,” Mrs. Tauscher said.
The treaty was voted down in 1999 as not in the national security interest.
Ms. Tauscher said in May that the administration plans to launch an “education” campaign aimed at winning Senate approval for the treaty. So far there are no signs of the campaign, and the outlook for ratification remains bleak.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading arms-control advocate, has said he still opposes the treaty, based on its questionable verification provisions and ill-defined wording on what constitutes a nuclear test.
• Bill Gertz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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