- - Wednesday, May 15, 2013


When President Obama abandoned the Bush administration’s negotiated missile and radar deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, he doubled down on what has become known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach — a series of missile defense deployment strategies staggered over the next decade throughout the European continent designed to adapt to the changing threats facing the American homeland, our allies and interests abroad.

This strategic shift came in the wake of protestations from Russia, which saw the presence of Ground-Based Midcourse Defense installations in Europe envisaged by the Bush administration as a threat to its own regional influence and nuclear deterrent.

While capitulating to Russian demands was in itself disturbing, the adoption of the European Phased Adaptive Approach also committed the long-term missile defense interests of the United States to the development of a future, theoretical iteration of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), known as the Block IIB.

Earlier versions of the SM-3 deployed throughout the world have been the backbone of America’s comprehensive anti-ballistic missile strategy, a defensive weapon designed to counter short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Originally intended to comprise the fourth phase of the adaptive approach, the SM-3 Block IIB was supposed to provide a greater, more sophisticated level of anti-ballistic missile defense, with capabilities including intercontinental coverage from hostile ballistic missiles originating from Iran.

Now, objections by Russia to the development of the SM-3 Block IIB, coupled with increasing criticisms about the missile’s capabilities and limitations, including a scathing report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, have caused the Obama administration to scrap funding for the Block IIB.

This development may have been foreshadowed given the somewhat hasty approach the Obama administration took toward adoption of the European Phased Adaptive Approach. More importantly, though, Congress and the Obama administration must now assess what best strategies to implement, given budgetary constraints, to meet the nation’s immediate and near-term threats.

A bellicose North Korea, with a new leader apparently determined to make his own waves on the world stage, has brought back into focus the breadth and scope of the nuclear threat facing the United States.

The decision to restore the number of West Coast ground-based interceptors, to a Bush-era designated 44 from the 30 adopted by the Obama administration, was a welcome and appropriate move, however belated. Missile test failures notwithstanding, the regional and long-range threat coming from North Korea cannot be ignored.

Equally important, a comprehensive and layered missile defense strategy must include similarly situated ground-based interceptors installations protecting the Eastern United States. A recent Pentagon assessment moved up to 2015 the estimated date in which Iran could flight-test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.

Congress should push for the expedited placement of an East Coast interceptor site while simultaneously accelerating any related environmental impact studies.

An East Coast site, coupled with an adequate and substantial supply of SM-3 Block IB and IIA anti-ballistic missiles — the SM-3 variants currently in development — will not just provide the Eastern Seaboard with a more enhanced level of protection against future Iranian provocations but also from less conventional maritime threats, such as an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

The threat of an EMP, a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy detonated in the atmosphere and capable of collapsing an area’s electric grid, communications systems, and transportation, is in a sense a more immediate threat given that it need not originate from hostile foreign soil. An EMP could be launched from a sea-based vessel much closer to American shores.

The reality of asymmetric threats such as an EMP attack, coupled with the inexorable movement from Iran and North Korea toward more sophisticated nuclear programs, demand the need for immediate focus to be placed on procuring the assets and geographic installations most capable of defending the continental United States and her interests abroad.

The Obama administration should expedite the placement and testing process of East Coast ground-based interceptors, ensure our military maintains ample anti-ballistic missile assets to meet all contingencies, and stay ahead of the threat curve.

Scott G. Erickson is an independent national security policy analyst.

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