Two otherwise unrelated activities represent a serious challenge for the Obama administration: Hamas’ rocket war with Israel and the U.S. decision to equip its Atlantic fleet with more ballistic missile defense (BMD) capable warships. These activities acknowledge a growing missile threat to global security.
But expect the president-elect to put rocket and missile defense systems on hold while he negotiates with terrorists and rogues. Obama said during the campaign he’ll negotiate with regimes like Iran, and he is being urged by advisers to initiate contacts with Hamas.
In contrast, during his campaign, Obama said he “…supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable.” Even though our anti-missile technologies are maturing they cannot be conclusively “proved” except in war.
We must continue to grow our layered BMD systems because the threat is increasing. Growing our systems should be done in tandem with any negotiations, and to do otherwise would be foolhardy.
The ongoing Israel-Hamas war was ignited by the terror group’s rocket attacks on Israeli cities. Since 2001, Islamic terrorists have used thousands of rockets to attack innocent Israelis rather than rely on suicide bombers which have been — since the Israelis fenced off Gaza — almost entirely thwarted. Therefore, expect rockets to become the terrorist’s weapon of choice, when like in Israel, other means are defeated.
Israel is responding to the terrorist’s rockets by developing a multi-layered “Iron Dome” Rocket Defense System and David’s Sling Missile Defense System which is Israel’s counter-rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) network to defeat Hamas’ aerial attacks. The C-RAM could become operational in the next five years and will be part of a network along side the U.S.-Israeli produced Arrow and US PAC-3 (the newest of the Patriot BMD systems) designed to protect Israel from Iranian ballistic missiles.
Last fall, Israel’s ability to track and intercept ballistic missiles was improved with the addition of the U.S.-provided X-band early-warning radar system.
Fortunately, short range rockets like those used by Hamas to attack Israeli cities haven’t been a problem for the U.S. homeland. That could change if our borders aren’t better controlled and coastlines are accessed by rogues with sea-to-land rockets like the Scud recently tested from an Iranian container ship. America has no C-RAM for the homeland, and one should be developed. However, for now, our primary aerial threat is the emergence of Iranian and North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The U.S. has 18 Aegis-equipped guided missile warships that can track and intercept enemy ballistic missiles. All but two are assigned to the Pacific fleet and are primed to defend against North Korean missiles. Adding three Aegis capable warships to the Atlantic fleet’s two systems provides the necessary flexibility to counter the growing Iranian threat.
The Aegis systems which have an excellent track record are equipped with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors designed to destroy short and medium range missiles on the ascent phase. Since the first intercept test in January 2002, the Aegis BMD has realized 16 successful target missile intercepts in 20 attempts, including two intercepts by two SM-3s during one test. Last year, an SM-3 fired from an Aegis cruiser brought down an errant U.S. spy satellite.
Our 24 ground-based interceptors at Fort Greeley, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., are intended to engage midcourse North Korean targets before the warheads re-enter the atmosphere. Eight of the 13 midcourse intercept tests have been successful since 1999.
The U.S. has agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to install a BMD system in those countries for midcourse intercepts of Iranian missiles. But it appears these agreements may be in political jeopardy.
Shortly after his election, President-elect Obama took a call from Polish President Lech Kaczynski who asked about missile defense. Later, the Polish president said Obama promised to continue the BMD project, but immediately Obama’s campaign issued a rebuttal: “President-elect Obama made no commitment on it [missile defense]” and then restated its until technology is “proved to be workable” position.
That statement suggests the Obama administration may negotiate away the Europe-based BMD to smooth relations with the Russians, who threatened retaliation should the project go ahead. That view may explain the Bush administration’s decision to increase the number of Atlantic-based Aegis as a stopgap measure.
Hopefully, the new president will take the pulse of those who elected him and keep our Europe-based program on track. An August 2008 poll by the Opinion Research Corporation found that 87% of the American public wants our country to have a missile defense system, and 58% thinks there is a real threat from missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction.
Thirty-two countries have deployed ballistic missiles. Of that group, nine have nuclear weapons, nineteen have chemical weapons and eight have biological weapons, according to the Congressional Research Service. The most dangerous members of this club are Iran and North Korea, both of which have deployed hundreds of short and medium range missiles, and they are aggressively growing their programs in sophistication and range.
Recently, Iran tested a two stage solid fuel booster with a range of 1,200 miles, making U.S. troops, the Middle East and Southern Europe vulnerable. But more troubling is Tehran’s August 2008 missile test to place a satellite in orbit. Although not thought to have been successful, the test suggests that if Iran has a missile capable of placing satellites in orbit, it could improve its longer-range ballistic missile capabilities and deliver payloads of weapons of mass destruction to any place in the world.
The sobering aspect of this test was the fact that the rocket, named Safir (Ambassador), uses an indigenously developed propulsion system. All Iran needs to do is extend both the rocket’s range and its payload capability before it is ready for satellites or nuclear weapons. It would also require a re-entry vehicle for any warhead.
A February 2008 United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency report found that materials presented to them by western intelligence agencies indicate that Iran’s re-entry design was “… quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device.”
North Korea’s 1998 three-stage 1,200-mile-range Taepo Dong-1 ballistic missile test ignited U.S. urgency to deploy ground and sea-based BMD systems. Those efforts accelerated after Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test and its failed longer range Taepo Dong-2 test in 2006.
The North Koreans continue to develop new and more capable missiles. In 2007, Pyongyang displayed several new missile systems including the Musudan-1, which is based on the Soviet-era SS-N-6. It has a range of up to 2,500 miles and appears to be more maneuverable and accurate than other missiles in its arsenal.
U.S. national security demands that we move forward with a comprehensive rocket and missile defense “Iron Dome” effort because the global threat is increasing.
We need a C-RAM and terminal phase BMD network for the homeland, and our defenses need to increase in mobility and flexibility such as developing and deploying the airborne laser system for the boost phase. But ultimately BMD must move into space where it will be easier and more cost effective to engage intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Obama administration should make rocket and missile defenses a high priority and deploy them as they prove capable — not perfect. And the new president must not negotiate away our BMD insurance against rogue states like Iran in order to win favor with our erstwhile Russian “friends.”