Proper funding key to ensuring first line of missile defense

Russia is demanding the U.S. stop building missile defenses in Europe, just as it simultaneously helps Iran build the very rockets that hold NATO at risk.

In language reminiscent of the Cold War, President Putin is once again urging Washington “better not to do this.” The Russians have made it clear: if we build defenses, they threaten to attack. This despite serial attempts by Washington to “reset” relations between the two former Cold War adversaries.

Central to the Russian confusion over NATO missile defense objectives is a long-standing Russian view that missile defense is an arm of aggression, of providing a shield behind which an U.S. attack will take place. During the Cold War, Gorbachev called missile defense “space strike weapons.”

What are we proposing to build? The U.S. major missile defense initiative is the EPAA, the European Phased Adaptive Approach. Over time, the missile shield we defend against short, medium and eventually long-range missiles. For better protection, and after appropriate testing, the Block 1B version of the Navy Aegis based Standard Missile (SM-3) will be deployed to expand the defended area against short- and medium-range missile threats.

However, despite a successful test in May, SM-3 1B interceptor production next year may be cut by more than half, down from an originally planned 62. This will undermine three things: our ability to fulfill the inventory needs of U.S. combat commanders; to acquire the missiles for a good unit price; and to best implement U.S. security policy.

Senator Jeff Sessions of the Senate Armed Services Committee recently warned against proposed cuts in current missile defense capabilities, specifically the Aegis SM-3 1B, explaining “it is better to have one in the hand than two in the bush.”

These SM-3 interceptors can be deployed on both ships and on land — known as “Aegis or Navy ashore.” They can defend U.S. interests in the Far East and Pacific, in Europe and the Middle East. To be clear, the missile defenses are not a substitute for U.S. offensive weapons, but an insurance policy which adds to deterrence.

Missile defense denies an adversary the ability to blackmail the United States in a crisis. Retired General Kevin Chilton, former Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said a North Korean or Iranian leader might very well threaten the use of ballistic missiles as a means of coercion and leverage, to prevent the U.S. and its allies from protecting their interests.

Some critics have complained that until Iran or North Korea launch rockets that demonstrate sufficient range to hold Chicago at risk, there is little need to seek protection of the United States as future elements of the EPAA are designed to do. But fire insurance needs to be bought before your house burns down.

Given growing international cooperation between North Korea, Iran, Russia and China on ballistic missile development, strategic surprise is likely. We know current Iranian missile capabilities put much of central Europe at risk. The continental United States may very well be next. Should current Iranian rockets be deployed in Venezuela or from an off-shore freighter, the U.S. mainland would be at risk now.

Critical to the effectiveness of the Aegis-based missile defenses is that we have a full inventory so that they may be “available where needed.” This avoids “a rush to war” where missile threats emerge over the horizon and threaten to turn a crisis into an open conflict. As Uzi Rubin argued in a June 15th address, missile defenses now allow “us to choose to de-escalate.” Missile defenses also have to be seen by both our allies and adversaries as sufficient to “do the job,” which makes a higher production rate for missile defense interceptors beneficial.

The deployment of mobile Aegis ships with SM-3 1B interceptors accomplishes many missions. But this all requires a sufficient inventory.

Combined with the U.S.-Israel alliance and the growing cooperation over Arrow, David Sling and Iron Dome missile defense systems, the full production of these Aegis standard missiles pushes the U.S. and its allies closer to a truly global and layered missile defense system that, for the free peoples of the world, “provides for the common defense.”