The way the Department of Defense does math, two plus two never equals four. Take this simple equation. Add the growing threat from theater ballistic missiles to the Army’s search for relevance in the post Iraq/Afghanistan world and the answer should come up: expand the Army’s role in missile defense. What does the Pentagon/Army do? They have decided to cut the number of batteries of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that will be acquired in the near-term by a third, from nine to six batteries.
The THAAD is an extremely capable, mobile, land-based system that can perform intercepts both inside and outside the atmosphere. It provides an additional layer of defense between the very short-range Patriot and the long-range Standard Missile (SM) 3.
The Pentagon has an ambitious program to deploy theater missile defenses to Europe. The European defense, termed the Phased Adaptive Architecture, relies on the Aegis ballistic missile defense system which combines the Aegis radar with the SM-3 both on ships and ashore. Currently, the first 20 or so destroyers and cruisers have been equipped with the special software and the SM-3 Block IA missiles. A series of upgrades to the radar, battle management system and SM-3 missile will provide increased capabilities against both longer-range missiles and larger numbers of missiles in a salvo.
As tensions with Iran intensify and North Korea is reported to be acquiring a long-range, mobile ballistic missile, it doesn’t make sense for the Pentagon to cut back on its investments in missile defenses. Yet, it is not buying its first-line interceptor, the SM-3, in nearly the quantities needed to counter the near-term threat.
The Army appears to be equally short-sighted. The new defense strategy does not envision major land wars or large-scale stability operations in the nation’s future. The question today is why does the United States have an Army? One answer is to provide land-based air and missile defense. In fact, this is an Army mission. But it is going about it the wrong way. Instead of investing in new armored trucks and armored fighting vehicles, perhaps the Army should spend more money on expanded and technologically more sophisticated missile defenses.
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