On April 6, the Obama Administration presented the country and the world with half a plan for ballistic missile defense. The Secretary of Defense announced that the so-called European third site consisting of ten ground-based interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic would be cancelled to be replaced by a web of sea and land-based Standard Missile 3 (SM 3) interceptors and supporting infrastructure in Europe, the Mediterranean and Black Sea.
The administration failed to address two vital questions. First, what is it doing now to ensure that the United States is fully protected against long-range ballistic missile threats? The fundamental purpose of the third site was to provide protection of the eastern United States against missiles flying over Europe. The speed and ballistic trajectory of missiles able to hit the United States from the Middle East would make them impervious to the SM-3 based in Europe. A different system is needed to defend against long-range systems.
But, the argument will be made that right now there are no long-range ballistic missiles in the Middle East so there is time to respond to an emerging threat. That brings me to my second question: what is the administration doing to ensure that it will have a response available in time to react to the appearance of a long-range missile capability in Iran?
The answer to both questions is not much. In addition to canceling the third site, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced that it was reducing the number of ground-based interceptors it was buying to the bare minimum necessary to maintain the two West Coast sites in Alaska and California. It was not going to buy enough missiles to maintain an adequate testing program — even though MDA has stressed the importance of robust testing to ensure the viability of defensive systems. Without additional missiles or a warm production line there would be no hope of responding to a change in the threat by expanding the number of ground-based interceptors on the West Coast or deploying them at a new site in the eastern United States.
MDA does not even have a plausible sustainment plan for maintaining the existing national missile defense capability. Finally, the administration also eliminated its R&D program for follow-on long-range systems, canceling the Kinetic Energy Interceptor and limiting the Airborne Laser to a single test bed aircraft. While MDA promises to maintain an R&D program for follow-on missile defenses, their recent decisions mean starting over from scratch. Consequently, any new capabilities are at least fifteen years away.
MDA owes the administration and the American people two plausible plans, one to sustain the current national missile defense deployment and a second for the long-range R&D needed to support a responsive deployment in the event of a break out by a rogue regime. Right now, all we have is half a plan.