Israel’s Iron Dome exposes misguided US missile defense
Israel’s highly successful Iron Dome anti-rocket system that defeated hundreds of Gazan rockets launched at Jewish populated centers over the past week ought to persuade the Obama administration to abandon its dangerous missile defense strategy.
Iron Dome is a mobile all-weather air defense system of radars and interceptors that detect incoming short range rockets and artillery shells (ranges from 2.5 to 44 miles), determine which ones threaten populated areas and/or critical infrastructure, and then launch and guide killer “Tamir” missiles to the threatening projectile. Each interceptor costs $40,000 to $50,000 and is equipped with a proximity-fused warhead.
During Israel’s recent Operation Pillar of Defense the Iron Dome network of five batteries each armed with 60 interceptors arrayed across southern Israel destroyed 84 percent of 421 of the rockets headed for city centers thus saving untold lives, preventing significant damage to Israeli property, and likely prevented Jerusalem from launching a costly ground attack into Gaza to stop the launches. Perhaps just as important the Iron Dome gave the Israeli public a sense of security and an appreciation its government is protecting them from a serious threat.
Further, Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system validates the low end of former President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 Star Wars vision. Then President Reagan described in glowing terms his vision for an impermeable missile shield that nudged the Soviets toward agreements that sharply reduced nuclear arsenals but it took three decades to overcome most of the thorny technological challenges just now being realized with the Iron Dome.
Israel with American financial assistance – $275 million in FY11-12 and $680 million pledged under the condition of technology sharing over the next three years – conquered most technological challenges to field the Iron Dome and now, in cooperation with several U.S. firms the Jewish state is rapidly developing a “multi-layer shield” that includes David’s Sling (aka Magic Wand) and the Arrow system.
Once fully fielded Israel’s “multi-layer shield” should guard against short-range rockets from Gaza and southern Lebanon to ballistic missiles from Iran. Specifically, David’s Sling is designed to intercept medium-range (25 to 185 miles) missiles, while the Iron Dome system will be effective against short range rockets. The Arrow system forms the top layer of the defense shield. It is designed to knock out ballistic missiles, primarily the Shabab-3B deployed by Iran and the more advanced solid fuel Sejjil-2 Tehran is now developing.
This is promising news for those concerned about the escalating global rocket and missile threat. But evidently President Obama isn’t so sanguine about America’s need for comprehensive missile defense even though the homeland and our overseas troops remain vulnerable to rockets and missiles fired from the other side of an Afghan mountain, a rocket-armed ship off our coast or long-range missiles launched by rogue regimes through space to our shores.
“Since entering office, the Obama administration has demonstrated a lack of interest in, and support for, missile defense – specifically, the defense of the United States,” said Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), Chairman for the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee. Rep. Turner said at a hearing earlier this year that Obama’s missile defense budget request slashed $3.6 billion in fiscal years 13-16 which translates into fewer missile silos as well as “[funds] to maintain all the silos we have,” mothballs some anti-missile radar systems, cuts over sixty Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptors, and allocates no money for an East Coast national missile defense site, which our homeland defensive headquarters, Northern Command, strongly recommends.
Strangely, Obama did request funds for regional missile defenses for Europe. Specifically, Obama wants to spend $5 on the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) for every $1 on America’s national missile defense. The EPAA is a gift to NATO at a cost of $8.5 billion to the American taxpayer and replaces former President George W. Bush’s European-based missile defense system that was to be part of our national missile defense.
America’s fledgling national missile defense is a system of missile interceptors that are located at Fort Greely in central Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The system’s kill vehicles are meant to rocket into space to destroy enemy warheads by force of impact. The West Coast interceptors are primarily focused on North Korean launches and President Bush intended his proposed European-based system to protect the East Coast, which is now unprotected thanks to Obama’s decision.
Meanwhile, America faces a growing and serious missile threat. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in 2011 “with the continued development of long-range missiles and potentially a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] and their continued development of nuclear weapons, North Korea is in the process of becoming a direct threat to the United States.”
Rep. Turner and five other members of Congress wrote Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asking him to justify the administration’s proposed missile defense cuts in light of the growing threat. Turner summarized Panetta’s response: “while Iran and North Korea are developing and perhaps readying the deployment of significant numbers of ICBMs, the Obama administration is concentrating on building communications terminals and crossing its fingers about reliability improvements.”
Obama’s evident lack of interest in missile defense extends to our troops in Afghanistan. Earlier this year Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote Obama asking him to deploy to Afghanistan the Iraqi battlefield proven Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar Intercept system (C-RAM).
C-RAM, America’s Iron Dome-like system, would provide an effective defense against attacks against our Afghanistan installations but isn’t deployed because of politics. In 2009, then U.S. Central Command commander General David Petraeus requested C-RAM intercept capability for Afghanistan but the White House gave the commander a dangerous choice. In order to accept C-RAM, the commander would have to withdraw an equivalent number of troops already committed to other missions. The Obama administration’s politically-inspired force cap restriction forced the commander into the unacceptable dilemma of choosing between executing the mission and protecting lives.
So what should be the Obama administration’s missile defense strategy?
Iron Dome demonstrates President Reagan’s vision of an “impermeable missile shield” is technologically possible at least at the low end. President Obama should redouble our efforts to overcome the remaining technological barriers before missiles rain on America.
Specifically, we need a multi-layered missile defense capability vis-à-vis Israel. Our forward deployed interests such as troops in Afghanistan need C-RAM seamlessly integrated with Iron Dome to complete a layered defense and our homeland needs a fully funded, viable and comprehensive national missile defense system before we invest billions in a system exclusively for the Europeans. It is past time the Europeans pay for their defense.
America must protect its homeland, overseas interests and key allies from the very dangerous, growing threat posed by the proliferation of rockets and missiles. The Israelis prove missile defense works and is critical to protecting against the growing threat. It is past time President Obama acknowledges that threat and works with Congress to realize President Reagan’s validated missile shield vision before it is too late.