Today, the prospect of a nuclear deal with Iran garners front page headlines.  The heated debate – like many of its kind – has brought with it congressional rancor riddled with political maneuvering.  

While curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions is the issue of the day, Congress would do well to listen to military leaders who are helping the United States prepare for the threats of today and those around the corner, threats that extend well beyond Iran.   


As Jeffrey Haworth, director of intelligence and security in the missile defense component of U.S. Strategic Command, noted, “Regardless of whether we’re talking about unmanned aerial systems, whether we’re talking about aircraft, whether we’re talking about missile systems…there is more of everything. There is more of everything at every range, there is more of everything at every capability, there is more of everything at every category of threat.” 

According to recent estimates from the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, 22 countries have ballistic missile capability, and it's likely that nine of those nations have nuclear capability.  

In February, Iran flexed its muscles on the world stage when it claimed its military has successfully test-fired two new domestically made missiles, one of which was reportedly "a long-range ballistic missile with radar-evading capabilities."  But Iran is not alone in both its interest in projecting an ability to strike the U.S. homeland.  North Korea has long sought missile technology that could launch a nuclear warhead over the Pacific aimed at a U.S. target.  

This "more of everything" threat reality clearly makes 2015 a crucial year for U.S. missile defense. Fortunately, we are on a path to stay ahead of the many threats on the horizon.  

Priority No. 1 for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is pursuing a short-term upgrade for our nation’s missile interceptors – specifically, the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), or the tip of the Ground-based Interceptors located in Alaska and California. This EKV is the "bullet" that takes out an enemy missile mid-flight, and has been the Achilles' heel of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system that protects the continental United States.  

Last summer's successful test of the system certainly put the program back on a path of reliability. And enhancing the interceptor's kill vehicle is the essential next step.   

Earlier this year, MDA requested that Congress approve $279 million to produce a redesigned kill vehicle. The EKV that has been tested over the last handful of years was deployed prematurely in prototype status, and the redesign that MDA is pursuing is the first real opportunity to mature this technology.  

MDA is also rightly targeting a longer-term solution in the "multiple kill vehicle," but Congress should resist any urge to skip the critical interim step of developing and deploying the redesigned kill vehicle by 2018. This redesign is hardly a "band-aid" as some have reported; it will provide performance enhancements and reliability upgrades by leveraging existing Standard Missile-3 technology. This is the lowest-risk, lowest-cost option to ensure our homeland is protecting in the near-term. 

While funding sufficient and dependable interceptor inventories is important, this cannot be the entirety of our nation's missile defense strategy. The Pentagon and Congress must continue to devote resources to developing the next generation of sensors and ensuring that those are fully integrated into our air and missile defense plans.  

One solution is the development of so-called long-range discrimination radar (LRDR), which MDA has said "will provide persistent sensor coverage and improve discrimination capabilities against threats to the homeland from the Pacific theater." LRDR, likely to be placed in Alaska, will enhance our system's ability to differentiate between real incoming warheads and countermeasures, devices that are designed to fool radars into guiding interceptors against false targets. MDA has allotted $138 million in this year's budget to develop LRDR, a reasonable sum for such an essential capability.  

In this austere budget environment, Congress has sought ways to trim the Department of Defense budget, it should buck the impulse to slash programs before they can be fielded. From JLENS (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor) to PTSS (Precision Tracking Space System), too often defensive tracking programs have been cut or significantly scaled back before they can reach full maturity and offer combatant commanders much-needed capabilities.   

As Congress begins the hard work of drafting and passing its annual defense authorization and appropriations bills, it is important to look beyond Iran and its nuclear ambitious. At no time in our nation's history have we seen such a proliferation of missiles in the hands of adversaries, including many non-state actors. That puts our homeland at risk in a way that has only been theoretical until now.  

Not taking that threat seriously and failing to fund critical missile defense systems puts the United States on a perilous path that could leave our troops and our citizens vulnerable to attack, something that Congress can thwart with good budgeting in the days and weeks ahead.

Anderson is a former head of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command.