President Obama’s first defense budget increases risks in future wars by scaling back weapon systems designed to dominate the battlefield and protect the homeland, say military experts.
The Pentagon was to activate 44 ground-based interceptors by 2011 in Alaska and California to protect the United States against a limited ballistic attack from North Korea and Iran. It broke down this way according to Missile Defense Agency budget submitted last year: 30 interceptors to stop a North Korean attack; 14 to blunt Iran.
But Obama’s 2010 budget released in April deletes 14 interceptors. On its face, this means the country will have fewer ways to stop an attack by Iran as that country pursues both nuclear warheads and the missiles to carry them as far Israel, Europe and the United States.
“This administration has presumably found that the Iran threat is not credible, which I think stretches credulity,” Baker Spring, a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation, told HUMAN EVENTS.
Spring said he knows of no change in the U.S. missile threat assessment between President George W. Bush’s last defense budget and Obama’s first one.
In fact, recent events suggest the threat is greater.
North Korean has refused, despite more than a decade of wrenching negotiations with the Clinton and Bush administrations, to give up its nuclear weapons program. Intelligence agencies say it entered the decade with one or two nuclear warheads and probably has several more by now.
To boot, the hardline Stalinist regime defied Obama and the United Nations in April by test-launching a Taepo-dong 2 missile that could hit the West Coast. It came just as Defense Secretary Robert Gates was announcing the 14-interceptor cut. Tests have show the system can track and destroy a warhead on a missile like the Taepo-dong 2 in its mid-course phase in space.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to threaten Israel’s existence and brags about the country’s strides in producing enriched uranium, the fissile material needed to make a weapon. He claims it is for peaceful purposes, but outside experts say there is little doubt Tehran is pursuing the bomb and the ability to deliver it on targets thousands of miles away.
More troubling, The Washington Times earlier this month reported on a new U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran is ignoring Western pressure.
“During the reporting period , Iran continued to expand its nuclear infrastructure and continued uranium enrichment and activities related to its heavy-water research reactor, despite multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions since late 2006 calling for the suspension of those activities,” it quoted the report as saying. It was written by the CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center and endorsed by the National Intelligence Council.
Six senators, led by Joseph Lieberman (I-Ct.), have written to Obama protesting his cuts and outlining the threat the country faces.
“As you know, the threat from ballistic missiles is significant and on the rise,” the senators wrote. “Lieutenant General Daniel Maples, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “the threat posed by ballistic missile delivery systems is likely to increase while growing more complex over the next decade.” General Maples further warned that “adversary nations are increasingly adopting technical and operational countermeasures to defeat missile defenses.” Ballistic missile technology has already proliferated worldwide and is a direct threat to both our allies and our homeland.
Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, says the agency has determined 30 interceptors can do the job.
It is believed that 30 are adequate to cover long range launch sites in both Iran and North Korea,” he told HUMAN EVENTS. “The remaining 14 interceptors will be used for tests and can also be used for operations if required. All 44 interceptors are already built or under contract.”
Then there is the issue of the F-22 Raptor, the most advanced fighter aircraft ever developed by the Air Force. Its main role is to seize supremacy of the air in time of war, not letting any enemy fighters or bombers strike American troops or other targets. An Air Force assessment put the requirement at 381 F-22s. As a compromise, it said it could carry out the air superiority mission with about 240 at a “moderate risk” of success. Gates has given the Air Force 187 and will terminate the line.
The inevitable question is if 240 aircraft are few enough to pose a “moderate risk” of success — or failure — what risk results from limiting the number to 187?
The 187-aircraft cap effectively leaves the Air Force with 100 operational planes, since a significant number will be out of combat availability for testing, training and maintenance. Air power experts say that in a future war with a major foe, such as Russia or China, 100 is insufficient to win air supremacy. This is because a share of those 100 must be keep in reserve for another flare-up. And the single-engine F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the successor to the aging F-16 fleet, is significantly slower than the F-22 and carriers fewer air-to-air missiles.
The Air Force had a chance of procuring 240 F-22s with Gen. Michael Moseley, a fighter pilot and fierce F-22 advocate, as chief of staff. But Gates fired Moseley a year ago over nuclear safety issues, and replaced him with Gen. Norton Schwartz, a career transport and special operations pilot.
“I’ve said all along that we need 381 F-22 Raptors,” Moseley told Air Force Times before his ouster. “I consider that number a minimum. I want enough F-22s to equip a 24-plane squadron for each of our 10 air and space expeditionary forces, plus robust training and weapons development squadrons.”
That hope is now dashed. The aircraft on which the fighter community pegged its future has seen no action in the war on terror. It seems to be a sacrifice to Gate’s complaints about “next-war-itis”: too much of the budget devoted to future threats while the military today is in two counter-insurgency wars and needs the best and most up-to-date equipment to fight them.
“The reality is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater. So it is principally for use against a near peer in a conflict, and I think we all know who that is,” Gates said in 2008. “And looking at what I regard as the level of risk of conflict with one of those near peers over the next four or five years until the Joint Strike Fighter comes along, I think that something along the lines of 183 is a reasonable buy.”
But the Air Force fighter community argues otherwise and will fight the cut through its surrogates of friendly legislators, retired officers and the Air Force Association.
The AFA has put out papers highly critical of Gates, while explaining the F-22’s importance.
“Air dominance is a core mission function and core competency of the Air Force, one that is an absolute requirement for forces that operate on the earth’s surface,” the AFA says. “This has been accomplished so successfully that it is easy to take air dominance for granted. Every plan — every contingency operation –assumes we will control the skies.”
The group says the military now needs increased funding, not a flat line as outlined in White House budget documents, to recover from a “procurement holiday” in the 1990s and seven years of war.
“The country must decide how much increased risk we can accept through cuts in defense in the name of fiscal discipline,” it said. “The F-22 is America’s most capable aircraft, but terminating production now will leave us far short of the established military requirement.”