Monday, June 9, 2003

The air and space over a modern battlefield is a mess. Aircraft and missiles fly in all directions, satellites orbit overhead, and dozens of radars send overlapping signals. Multiple threats come from above. Aircraft drop bombs and fire rockets, ballistic missiles arrive from different directions, and cruise missiles come in low.

The situation over Kuwait was hectic. Hundreds of coalition aircraft, both land- and carrier-based, operated over and around the area. On the ground, large numbers of coalition forces and huge supply depots were prime targets. Iraq used no aircraft, but fired ballistic missiles and one cruise missile, which flew in under the radar.

The experience has led to a new appreciation of layered air and missile defenses. A good defense must stop everything: slow-flying aircraft, high-speed and high-altitude ballistic missiles, and low-flying cruise missiles. This requires a network of radars and interceptors of various ranges and capabilities.

The network might include ground-based, sea-based, and space-based radars and other sensors that feed information on the air and space environment to battle management centers that direct interceptors to their targets. No single interceptor can stop all possible threats. Different interceptors are needed to protect against high-flyers and low-flyers, fast targets and slow ones. The solution: a layered defense.

This concept, a key aspect of the planned missile defense of North America, is now becoming popular elsewhere. Israel deployed a form of such a defense during the fighting in Iraq. India, facing nuclear missiles in Pakistan, wants to buy a defense like Israel’s. And Japan, after years of indecision, appears ready to acquire a layered missile defense.

In Israel, the country’s own Arrow interceptors provide the upper layer of defense against ballistic missiles, while the lower layer consists of Patriot PAC-2 interceptors to stop aircraft and low-flying cruise missiles, and any ballistic missiles that get past the Arrows. Early warning by U.S. satellites and targeting data by land-based radars is supplemented by the SPY-1 radar of a U.S. Aegis ship offshore.

Now Japan is moving toward a similar layered defense. During talks in Texas on May 23, President Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed that Japan would accelerate its plan to deploy missile defenses. Japan already has a large number of PAC-2s defending high-priority areas, in addition to four Aegis destroyers with SPY-1 radars. And Tokyo has two more Aegis destroyers under construction.

Japan’s post-World War II constitution has been an impediment, but the Diet is moving to make changes. For 50 years after the war, Japanese public opinion was pacifist, with some claiming it would be unconstitutional even to shoot down a hostile missile. Japan deployed PAC-2 interceptors, but delayed more advanced defenses.

North Korea’s irrational and belligerent behavior changed all that. In 1998, the North fired a Taepo Dong missile over Japan’s main island and continues to produce Nodong missiles that can blanket most of Japan. A U.S. Forces Korea official said in April the North now is believed to have as many as 200 Nodongs. When Pyongyang admitted to kidnapping Japanese citizens and then claimed to possess nuclear weapons, Japanese public opinion changed. A strong majority now supports defenses.

Tokyo appears ready to upgrade its Patriots with new PAC-3 interceptors, and may modify its Aegis destroyers to carry the SM-3 interceptors being developed by the U.S. Navy. This would create a layered defense, with the ships providing high-altitude offshore defense and the PAC-3s a lower terminal defense. The U.S. Navy is still testing the SM-3, which it plans to have on three Aegis ships in 2005. The end of the ABM treaty also allows the Navy to test new ship-based interceptors that go faster and higher.

The main threats to Japan are medium- and intermediate-range missiles deployed by North Korea and China. The best defense against them may be the Army’s Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which had two successful intercepts in 1999. Since redesigned, it is scheduled for new flight tests next year and initial production in 2007. With a high-altitude reach, just six THAAD batteries co-located with Patriots could defend Japan’s main islands against that threat.

But first priority is PAC-3, which is now in production. Sea-based and THAAD interceptors could be added when they become available. Such a layered defense would give Japan and U.S. forces based there security against missile blackmail or attack. An international missile defense conference is being held in Kyoto this week to consider these issues.

Layered defenses also make sense for South Korea and Taiwan, which are facing hostile missiles. And similar defenses clearly are needed in the Middle East, where Syria has missiles, Libya is seeking them, and Iran is moving toward longer-range missiles and nuclear weapons. The time for layered air and missile defenses has come.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times who is based in San Diego.

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