' Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
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Jewish World Review March 2, 2005 / 21 Adar I 5765

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.

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Go Navy missile defense


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | With each passing day, evidence grows that two of the world's most dangerous rogue states, North Korea and Iran, will be able to equip their arsenals of ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. The prospect that American forces, allies and interests — and ultimately the United States itself — will be at risk from attack by such weapons offers a powerful validation of President Bush's visionary and courageous determination to deploy defenses against ballistic missile-delivered threats.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Navy confirmed that the president's vision can be realized in a near-term and highly cost-effective way — from the sea. For the fifth time out of six attempts, Navy ships successfully tracked, intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile in-flight, using their existing AEGIS fleet air defense systems and a new Standard Missile, dubbed the SM-3.

Three features make this test particularly significant: For the first time, the hardware and software utilized was the operational configuration (known as AEGIS BMD 3.0) that will be installed in all other AEGIS missile defense ships. No less noteworthy: The SM-3 that shot down the target was one of the first production rounds manufactured. And the personnel in the test were the regular crew of the USS Lake Erie.

In other words, this was the "real deal." The option of complementing land-based anti-missile defenses with sea-based assets capable of both tracking ballistic missiles and destroying them in-flight is now in hand.

In addition to the exemplary performance of the Lake Erie and its crew, Thursday's test also featured another important development: A second AEGIS ship, the USS Russell, brought to bear for the first time a new capability known as the AEGIS Ballistic Missile Signal Processor (BMSP).

This S-Band radar provided real-time discrimination and classification of the target, information that considerably enhances the probability of intercept. The AEGIS BMSP holds great promise for expanding missile defense radar coverage at a fraction of the cost of other approaches.

These achievements are all the more remarkable for another reason: The sea-based missile defense program has, for most of the last 13 years, suffered from minimal support from the Navy's leadership and outright hostility from the Pentagon's missile defense bureaucracy.

The former have tended to see this mission as a diversion of scarce resources from the other priority air- and sea-control duties for which the AEGIS ships were designed.

For the latter, sea-based anti-missile systems have generally been anathema, albeit for varying reasons. During the Clinton years, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was sacrosanct and even seagoing missile defenses incapable of stopping long-range ballistic missiles — and therefore not covered by the Treaty — were considered problematic. Consequently, the Navy's programs were often starved of funds.

Amazingly, matters have not much improved under the Bush administration that came to office determined to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and to deploy effective, global missile defenses as soon as possible. The Missile Defense Agency has largely been allowed to give short shrift to developing and deploying Navy anti-missile systems, in favor of ground-based interceptors and longer-term research and development.

Unfortunately, shortly before the Navy's successful test, the Ground-based Missile Defense system was dealt the latest in a series of experimental setbacks. While the threat of missile attack demands the program be completed — and that any necessary further testing and development be done, the achievements of the sea-based missile defense program needs a much more assertive effort to realize its potential.

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Such an effort should involve the following components:

  • Accelerate procurement of SM-3 missiles. Present plans call for deployment of just 30 such missiles by 2007, of which only a few would be the Block I interceptor successfully tested last week. The rest would be upgraded Block Ia missiles that are yet to be proven, let alone put into full-scale production. A larger buy of both could enable more ships to be missile defense-capable, affording protection to larger areas of the globe and reducing the unit costs of the interceptors.

  • Retain five AEGIS cruisers being decommissioned at a roughly the half-way point in their planned service life. These vessels can be configured to be effective antimissile ships at a fraction of the cost of new construction.

  • Resuscitate a program terminated several years ago to protect Navy fleets against short-range ballistic missile attack.

    Scuds and similar missiles available to North Korea, Iran and China, among other potentially hostile states, demand the earliest possible deployment of a capability like that of the so-called SM-2 Block IVa program.

  • Maximize interoperability of U.S. sea-based missile defenses with the AEGIS ships of allied fleets — including those of Japan, Australia, Spain, Norway and South Korea. This can complement America's efforts to provide truly global protection against ballistic missile attack to our own forces, people and interests, while helping to defray costs.

Missile defenses are required now more than ever. The time has come to assign the Navy the mission and the resources necessary to provide comprehensive defenses from the sea.

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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2005, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.