- - Friday, June 27, 2014

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq — where an al Qaeda offshoot suddenly took over one-third of the country with Iran’s terrorist state threatening to intervene on the side of Iraq’s government — should provide a clear lesson to U.S. leaders on the need to adequately prepare for the unexpected. Ballistic-missile preparedness is a good case in point.

Ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction represent one of the most significant security threats facing the United States and its allies today, especially from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, untrustworthy regimes such as China’s and Russia‘s, and shaky governments such as that of Pakistan. Unfortunately, the U.S. response to these threats is substantially less than what is needed to mitigate them.

A successful ballistic-missile attack on the United States or its troops or allies could destroy an entire city, causing millions of casualties, or it could kill thousands of battlefield war fighters. If one nuclear weapon is detonated in the atmosphere high above the United States or allied nation it could produce an electromagnetic pulse that could render electrical grids inoperable — disrupting or destroying critical communications, navigation and sensor systems, and crippling the nation’s ability to function.

The Arms Control Association lists 31 countries with ballistic-missile capabilities. Nine countries (China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) are known or suspected of possessing nuclear weapons. North Korea and Pakistan plus Iran (which has a nuclear-development program) have produced or flight-tested missile-delivery systems ranging up to 620 miles. China and Russia have intercontinental missiles that can travel and deliver weapons of mass destruction payloads on targets thousands of miles from launch points.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency reports a growing ballistic-missile threat to America and its allies, especially from rogue states. By 2020, it estimates that threat is expected to increase by some 20 percent to 7,950 or more missiles, along with improved tactics, accuracy, range and countermeasures. If that isn’t bad enough, consider Pakistan’s situation, where nonstate terrorist actors, such as the Taliban, threaten to overthrow the government and steal some that nation’s hefty nuclear arsenal and missile-delivery systems.

Fortunately, the United States possesses superior technology to handle these threats. For example, the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance is the world’s most advanced radar. It can discriminate between threats and non-threats, and detect and track missile launches or spot objects as small as a baseball nearly 3,000 miles away — giving deployed forces and the nation valuable time to defend against a launched or inbound missile.

In its forward-based mode, this radar passes information on to the command-and-control battle-management communications element, which is then able to use other systems, such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, Patriot, Standard Missile 3 or Ground-Based Interceptor to destroy the threat during its ascent phase.

In its terminal-based mode, the radar serves as the fire-control radar for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense weapon system — locating and identifying the threat, and guiding the missile to destroy the threat during its descent phase.

Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t have enough Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance units. U.S. military planners and national security experts think that 18 of these radars (what the U.S. Missile Defense Agency originally budgeted for) are necessary. However, sequestration and White House-driven foreign-policy choices have reduced the number to 12. Some of the radars are deployed in Japan, Israel, Turkey and Qatar, and within U.S. Central Command areas of operation. Three of the 12 radars the United States has procured are currently in production.

Many security-conscious Americans are probably wondering why the administration would cut such an important radar program by a third in the face of growing ballistic-missile threats from rogue, untrustworthy and unstable nations. The short answer is the administration thought it might lead to better cooperation among adversaries such as Russia, eventually enhancing global stability and U.S. national security.

However, that strategy hasn’t succeeded.

At $170 million per unit, this radar is relatively inexpensive, and buying it is like purchasing catastrophic insurance protection. While it would not stop an all-out Russian attack, it would have a very good chance of protecting the United States against most other missile threats.

The most sacred responsibility of the president and Congress is to keep the nation’s people safe. In a highly volatile world — where danger lurks everywhere, and a single misjudgment or mistake could trigger a cataclysmic event — it’s not too much to ask President Obama and Congress to provide Americans with the best protection possible. Accordingly, they should immediately act to fully fund the 18 advanced radars our military and defense experts deemed necessary to keep us safe. American security and survival may depend on it.

Fred Gedrich served in the Defense and State departments.

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