Smart defense investments now will pay dividends in the future

With defense budgets declining and America resetting its security strategy, many may think it???s counterintuitive to support new defense and homeland security technologies.

But history provides us with a different lesson.

During the waning days of the Cold War when the federal government cut defense markedly, the research and development we preserved gave the U.S. the incredible stealth and precision of many of our weapons our soldiers use today.

This should serve as a valuable model as Iran amplifies its threats to the United States and our allies abroad and we wrestle with future defense spending here at home.

This dilemma is nowhere more apparent than in an emerging technology known as JLENS, which needs to complete its testing and begin production if we are to protect our homeland, troops and friends in the Middle East, as well as keep the sea lanes of commerce open.

One recent analysis defined JLENS as ???a dual-radar system that integrates surveillance radar with radar capable of guiding missiles to intercept, track and destroy enemy cruise missiles. The integration of existing missile systems with JLENS provides hundreds of miles of around-the-clock, 360-degree defense against enemy aircraft, cruise missiles, and unmanned drones,??? but, importantly, does so with lower operating costs than current alternatives.

JLENS has successfully completed two recent tests, demonstrating its capability to defend against cruise missiles with both Navy and Army systems, the Patriot and Standard Missile 6. Additionally, the system has simultaneously detected and tracked a simulated real-world ocean swarming scenario attack, the type expected to be used by Iran and other terrorists in the Persian Gulf.

With JLENS in place, attacks can be thwarted against oil tankers, commercial freighters and naval vessels in the Straits of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca through which literally trillions of dollars of goods and commodities travel.

Not surprisingly, General James Mattis, in charge of CENTCOM, has put JLENS deployment in the theater at the top of his needs.

But its utility does not end in the Middle East. As former Reagan chief of staff Peter Hannaford and others have written for the Committee on the Present Danger, there are gathering threats against America???s coastal regions that merit serious attention, as well.

On May 2, 1999, in a meeting with a bipartisan delegation of Armed Services Committee members, a senior Russian, the former Ambassador to the U.S. and then chairman of the Duma???s International Affairs Committee, Vladimir Lukin, warned that at any time Russia could launch a submarine-based missile off of America???s coast. This would detonate a nuclear warhead at an altitude of 60 to 100 kilometers and cause an electromagnetic pulse. Such an attack would be silent, yet it would destroy our electrical grid and much of our critical industrial infrastructure, and put millions of American lives at risk.

JLENS deployments along our coasts, coupled with missile defense and other assets, could give us sufficient coverage of, warning about, and protection from such shorter range and cruise missile launches of this kind, even as our Alaska and California based interceptors protect against longer range ICBMs.

The JLENS deployment would have the added benefit of complementing our naval presence that keeps open commerce on the high seas, upon which our country and our industrialized partners depend. It also can be used for border surveillance and as a tool in the drug wars.

Yet, despite the fact that it is ready for deployment, performs far better than any alternatives, and is needed in the field by our commanders, the future of JLENS is uncertain.

The current budget request is $190 million, which will fund an extended test program. A production phase would require added funding, but a decision is needed now to build five Orbits, as they are known, for both development and deployment.

However, before that is determined, our military must proceed with a field test for which Combatant Commanders requested and Congress approved $40 million last year. But in a curious move, the Department of Defense recently reprogrammed the $40 million for other needs, and thus a decision to proceed with the JLENS test and then production has been put in doubt.

With Iran only becoming more hostile every day and Russia???s intentions unclear, that may move may be both myopic and perilous.

Since 2001, the U.S. has deployed some 1,000-plus missile defense interceptors of all kinds. The proposed Gulf real-world test of JLENS would add to our current capabilities, and is critical to enhancing our future defense against maritime, homeland and regional threats.

That is an investment that history has shown us we cannot afford to delay.