- - Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The intellectual glitterati scoffed when Ronald Reagan first proposed the idea of ballistic missile defense but it’s now a reality, thanks to the continued efforts of those who believed in the concept and would not let it die. Increasing threats of this kind from adversaries devoting significant resources to new ammunition and delivery systems make it more important now than it has been in some time. We’ve been waiting to see what President Donald Trump would do, what his legacy in this area would be and, with the release of his FY21 budget, we now know.

Mr. Trump’s budget proposes significant investments that, if adopted, will ensure the United States will be protected by a sophisticated, proven, and layered defense well into the future. Increased funding for proven defensive weapons like the Aegis Ashore and Standard Missile-3 IIA means they will continue to provide the best protection possible in the near-term while the Missile Defense Agency works on what comes next.

Over the last 20 years the MDA, by investing significant financial, technological and infrastructure resources, has developed the most sophisticated layered and successful ballistic missile defense capability in existence. But it’s not enough. The United States only has 44 ground-based interceptors with kill vehicles to take out incoming missiles in our arsenals based in Fort Greely, Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

That’s enough to protect one side of the country but leaves the other undefended. America needs to improve its defenses against the growing threat of enemy Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. The Pentagon recently committed to a Next Generation Interceptor as the next step in that effort but, while important to the overall missile defense architecture it won’t be functional until 2026 at least. Some experts suggest the wait time is more like 12 years.

With North Korea’s waffling of their ICBM program, hostility at an all-time high with Iran, and Russia and China pushing ever further in missile testing and development, the likelihood of threats receding during this potential 12-year gap is slim to none. Forward-thinking technological advances are necessary but we cannot allow major geopolitical actors and rogue states to develop technologies that outpace our ability to defend against them.

America cannot afford a delay in defense. The Pentagon’s focus on the future must not ignore the needs of the present. Current mid-course missile defenses systems are sophisticated, ready now, repeatedly proven to work in tests, and can fill the much-needed gap in defense while the NGI is readied. The SM-3 Block Interceptor, which defeats short-to-intermediate range missiles, is deployed worldwide at sea and on land, and has dozens of successful intercepts. The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System enables American warships to serve as mobile transport interceptors.

These technologies protect us from short-range ballistic missiles but are not built to destroy incoming ICBMs. They represent millions of dollars in research and design, incredible feats of engineering and technical capability and have delivered critical engineering lessons over the years. America should not be forced to choose between investments in current technology and charting a better future for missile defense. We can have both.

The logical way forward is to aim for technological advances that meet growing long-term demand while continuing to invest in proven, cost-effective, tested technology that is already available. We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our current missile defense systems. We have the most sophisticated technology in the world because of it. We must use what’s working now to its fullest capacity while the Next Generation Interceptor gets off the ground.

President Trump’s FY2021 budget reflects the proper approach to near- and longer-term missile defense. Innovation and advancement should not trump immediate and interim safety. While we wait for the NGI to finish testing and development, Congress must ensure that President Trump’s critical investment in a proven and layered homeland missile defense is made.

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