US needs robust missile defense now more than ever

US needs robust missile defense now more than ever
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It’s now an almost weekly headline that North Korea is announcing or conducting highly provocative intercontinental ballistic missile tests. On top of that, Kim Jong Un regularly threatens nuclear annihilation of Guam, Japan and the United States.

Those repeated threats are particularly unsettling when Pyongyang shoots test missiles through the airspace of America’s allies and interests. While North Korea’s provocative actions have made them the focus of our attention, the missile threats from Iran, Russia and China continue to grow. 

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The good news is that we have developed the technology to defend ourselves from missile attack. The bad news is that during the past decade, our political leaders have lacked the will and foresight to prepare for the dangerous world we now live in.

 

About a decade ago, the Pentagon estimated our risk and set goals for missile defense capabilities. Even then, those estimates struck me as unduly optimistic. It was generally thought that Pyongyang was a long ways from sufficient nuclear capability and missile technology.

It is now clear that those assessments were indeed too optimistic. North Korea has been advancing both its nuclear capabilities and its missile technology at an alarming rate.

We have a variety of tools to defend our nation from missile attack. We have Ground-based Interceptors (GBIs) deployed in Alaska and California that provide the only protection from intercontinental ballistic missiles. For regional missile threats, we have the Aegis system equipped with standard missile interceptors deployed on ships and ashore.

We also have Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense (THAAD) batteries deployed in Guam and South Korea to protect against North Korea’s growing arsenal of missiles and threats against those regions.

These different defensive tools protect and defend against different types of missiles and risks. They are not duplicative. We need each element of these defenses. The problem is that by underestimating the risks, we soon may not be capable of defending ourselves. In the face of a rapidly expanding threat, we are in a tight spot. 

It is past time to correct these miscalculations. In the early days of the Obama administration, the number of missile interceptors called for was substantially reduced because the administration didn’t see the need. More recently, the stricken interceptors have been added back to our defensive plans.

Soon, we will have 44 missile interceptors, but that is what the Pentagon said we needed about a decade ago when the risks were much smaller. Today, even 44 interceptors are too thin a defense. 

Even with 44 ground-based interceptors, that doesn’t mean we can shoot down 44 incoming missiles. We will likely shoot three or more interceptors at any incoming missile to make absolutely sure we knock it out. There is no option to shoot and look and then shoot again if needed. If we want to be sure, we must shoot a salvo of interceptors. 

That means the 44 interceptors won’t go nearly as far as we would like. What's more, it currently takes months to reload once we shoot an interceptor. The bottom line is that we need to expand our defensive shield in order to protect the United States, now and as the threat grows in the future.

We must also maintain our commitment to continually improve our defenses by upgrading the kill vehicle and expanding and improving our radars and other technologies. 

Just as importantly, we need to make additional investments in regional defenses to protect our deployed forces and allies around the world. Protecting America means protecting our soldiers deployed overseas just as much as it means protecting U.S. soil.

To do so, we need more THAAD and Aegis systems, and we need to continue building an adequate supply of interceptors to destroy incoming missile threats. The real-world risk assessments make it clear we cannot continue the foolish policies of the past. 

But it isn’t just a matter of having more interceptors, more rockets, better radars or more defensive launch capabilities. We need to change how we purchase these needed defensive tools. We need to begin making plans and passing multiyear budgets for critical military hardware. One-year budgeting and continuing resolutions rob our military of the ability to properly plan and to get the best prices.

successful test of both the SM-3 and SM-6 interceptors took place on Oct. 15, along with the dire need to acquire more interceptors for the foreseeable future. These programs are ripe for using multi-year procurement authority.

If Congress will do its job and actually pass real budgets and begin to employ multi-year procurement plans, it will allow military planners to better provide for our defense and to do it at a lower cost. Multi-year plans allow contractors to make investments in their workforce and facilities that would save taxpayers at least 15 percent compared to the current outmoded procurement process. 

It is time for the Trump administration to push the Pentagon and Congress to make multi-year procurement the norm for important and expensive defense programs like missile defense. Our past lack of commitment to defending ourselves from growing missile threats around the globe must change now. 

George Landrith is the president and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty and constitutionally limited government.