The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted an event last week that allowed speakers in and out of government to discuss missile defense. Washington’s need to outpace missile threats into the future was underscored, along with priority areas for technological improvements. Here is a brief summary of the highlights of the discussion.
The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) is designed to protect America from North Korea and to remain ahead of the potential nuclear threat from Iran, explained Elaine Bunn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy. It is impossible to protect the U.S. from all missile threats because a sufficient number of interceptors cannot be purchased to do so (especially with a high cost of about $7 million each). Currently, the U.S. is on track to deploy 14 additional interceptors to the missile defense sites in Alaska and California by 2017. Bunn said that strengthening the U.S. defensive posture and investing in new technologies while balancing budget priorities are central to protecting the homeland from missile threats.
Brigadier General Kenneth Todorov, Deputy Director, Missile Defense Agency (MDA), made clear that consequences of losing large cities like Los Angeles and New York to a missile assault are worth the expensive investment in defenses to protect citizens and financial markets. The missile defense system is not a “fly catcher” – it cannot stop every incoming missile, but it is “part of a larger warfighter tool kit” and it is vital to continue to outpace such threats. The U.S. would be at a disadvantage if it were to wait for a threat to appear and then race to attempt to protect itself at the last minute.
Two current priorities for the MDA are to redesign the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) and develop the long-range discrimination radar to increase reliability and effectiveness of the GMD. General Todorov confirmed the floating and self-propelled Sea-Based X-Band Radar adds value to the taxpayer and to the MDA, despite criticism it has recently received in the media, as it has been deployed many times in real world situations and is guiding work on the long-range discrimination radar. The GMD flight test in December 2015 will be a “huge hallmark” for the architecture because it will focus on examining discrimination capability that has not been previously assessed.
National Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) interoperability must be the number one priority for missile defenses, emphasized Frank Rose, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control Verification, and Compliance, Department of State; otherwise NATO’s strength will diminish. Rose cited Turkey as an example of the first country to receive an AN/TPY-2 radar, which detects, acquires and tracks a missile, as a result of the European Phased Adaptive Approach. Rose failed to mention how Ankara’s defense minister recently stated it does not plan to integrate a new missile defense system with NATO infrastructure and is considering a $3.4 billion missile defense deal with China. If Turkey accepts the deal from China, NATO should question Ankara’s dependability as an ally.
Steven Pifer, Director, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, Brookings Institution, provided an in-depth account of U.S.-Russia relations. Pifer argued that Russia hesitates to cooperate with the U.S. for the following reasons: Russia fears America’s missile defense capabilities, Moscow has bureaucratic factions that oppose cooperation with America and Russians must accept U.S. military presence in Romania and Poland. Frank Rose described how Moscow is more dependent on nuclear weapons than the U.S. – Washington wants to reduce nuclear weapons in its strategy while Moscow wants the exact opposite. Hence, Washington’s and Moscow’s relationship is currently tense.
Areas of improvement in future missile defenses were identified by Richard Matlock, Program Executive, Advanced Technology, MDA. The number of shots fired at an incoming missile must be reduced by improving reliability of interceptors – one way is to equip each interceptor with multiple EKVs. Since the current missile defense system is radar-based, Matlock rationalized that electro-optical sensors (electronic detectors that convert light rays into electronic signals which are then readable by an instrument) need to be included to determine more information about the threat “from birth to death.” This will mark a dramatic shift in missile defense because it would increase discrimination capability (which will allow the identification of key objects to shoot down) while also changing the calculus of adversaries. Discovering a way to shrink the size of lasers will also allow the destruction of threats by unmanned aerial vehicles from the sky.
Rear Admiral Archer M. Macy (Retired) declared it is impossible to build a missile defense that is 100% reliable. There are two ways to prevent damage caused by a missile: by stopping enemies immediately before launch or destroying the missile after launch. We need to know where the threat is coming from and have proof it exists to prevent the launch of a missile. While missile defenses allow decision makers more time to decide on a response, Admiral Macy emphasized the importance of planning before attacks occur – after an attack occurs is not when the first meeting on the subject should be held. To illustrate how time is of essence, decision makers have less than forty minutes to make a decision when an ICBM is launched until impact, assuming they find out about it right away — a short amount of time to agree on a response, especially when lives are at stake.
The missile defense event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies provided a venue for busy policy leaders to inform the public on the importance of protecting against missile threats, whether launched intentionally or accidentally. There will continue to be an appetite for missile defense in Washington and amongst allies as threats continue to increase around the world. It is important for such discussions to continue to take place to inform interested parties on the status of missile defenses, and to remind everybody that the ballistic missile threat is not going away.
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