Of late, virtually all the media’s and public’s attention on matters military has been focused on events in western Iraq and eastern Syria. The fight against the Islamic State is important, but it is by no means the only theater of conflict for the U.S. military. Russia is deploying tanks and heavy artillery into eastern Ukraine against the independent government of that country. The deadline for an agreement imposing controls on Iran’s nuclear program is only weeks away. China continues its relentless military buildup. Just this week at a military trade fair it unveiled a new and advanced anti-ship cruise missile.
While our military is heavily involved in the current fight in the Middle East it is good to know that the Pentagon is still moving forward on programs intended to ensure U.S. military-technical superiority in the decade to come. The naval version of the F-35 just demonstrated its ability to land and launch from an aircraft carrier. The Air Force is moving forward on the acquisition of a new long-range bomber and a replacement for the current Russian-made RD-180 engine that helps power our Atlas V space launch vehicle.
One area where progress appears to be gaining speed is in ballistic missile defenses. It is vital that the United States develop and deploy advanced land and sea-based missile defenses to counter the proliferation of Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Iranian ballistic and cruise missiles. Missile defenses are critical to the ability of the U.S. and its allies to deter aggression by complicating an adversary’s planned initial use of ballistic and cruise missiles. Israel’s effective use of its Iron Dome system in the recent conflict with Hamas also shows how defenses can obviate the need for military escalation even in the face of unrelenting terrorist use of rockets and missiles against civilian targets.
The U.S. Navy is making tremendous strides with its Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (Aegis BMDS). This system is deployed already on dozens of U.S. surface warships. It is the basis for the Phased Adaptive Architecture for theater missile defense which will shortly be deployed on the European continent to protect U.S. forces and allies from theater ballistic missile attack.
Just last week, the Navy successfully demonstrated the latest version of the Aegis BMDS. The enhanced version of the defensive system successfully engaged and defeated multiple incoming ballistic and cruise missiles at the same time. This is important because it means that one ship can both defend itself against incoming aircraft and anti-ship cruise missiles while simultaneously tracking and defeating ballistic missiles launched against other targets. This is the same basic system that will be deployed to Romania sometime in 2015 and Poland in 2017. When the advanced Standard Missile 3 Blocks IB and IIA are deployed in a few years, they will allow Aegis Ashore or at sea to provide a potent defense capability.
The Army is also beginning to recognize the need to invest in systems to counter the threat from rockets and missiles. According to recent news reports, the Army will acquire a battery of the highly successful Iron Dome theater missile defense system for testing with the possibility of acquiring more in the future. In addition, the Army (and the Navy) are testing tactical laser defense systems. Both services have demonstrated the utility of directed energy weapons against a host of threats including ballistic missiles, rockets, manned aircraft and drones, cruise missiles and even small boats. Mobile theater defenses and advanced sensor systems such as the Navy’s Aegis and the Army’s JLENS could undermine an aggressor’s confidence in his arsenal of rockets and missiles.
The successful development of theater missile defenses does little for the defense of the U.S. homeland. The Department of Defense and the Missile Defense Agency need to increase their efforts to provide the people and territory of the United States with a high confidence defense against rogue nation’s long-range ballistic missiles.
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