A North Korean missile Taepodong class iBy Trey Obering and Rebeccah Heinrichs

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in March that the administration would deploy more Ground-based Interceptors or “GBIs” to better defend American cities from North Korean ballistic missiles. He also said it would begin studying sites on the East Coast in the event the administration decided to build a third missile defense facility. But one item in the Secretary’s announcement failed to garner significant attention: the fact that the administration is canceling its own missile defense system, the SM-3 IIB.

The administration is on record as saying the SM-3 IIB was necessary to increase security of the American people against Iranian missiles. In fact, it was so important to that added protection that the Congress required the administration to develop a hedge strategy in the event that the SM-3 IIB program experienced development problems.

With that system’s demise, the administration should execute that hedge strategy immediately.

Given the geometry of the flight path taken by an Iranian missile fired on the U.S., an East Coast missile defense site would significantly improve protection against such an attack when combined with additional sensors. This will improve the overall performance of the system and will increase the “battle space,” a phrase used to describe the time operators have to hit an incoming warhead before it hits its intended target. These benefits are not realized by just adding GBIs to Alaska.

The concept of placing more GBIs in the two existing sites in Alaska and California is not new. Neither is the idea of a third site.

During the Bush administration, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) supported emplacing more GBIs in Alaska and it examined building a third site on the East Coast in order to increase the effectiveness of the current system. The two sites, in Alaska and California provided defense of the West Coast, and some defense of the East Coast. In 2007 the Bush administration formally announced the decision to work with U.S. allies to deploy an additional site in Poland and the Czech Republic. Placing the third site there would be a two-fer: defense of Europe and additional protection of our East Coast. Shortly after President Obama took office he canceled the third site, at least in part because of Russian objections.

The need to provide added protection of the U.S. homeland remained. This is why President Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach included a phase that would emplace a new missile, the SM3-II B, in Poland. Because this missile had yet to be developed, it bought the administration time to try to alleviate Russian concerns about U.S. long-range missile defense and acted as an assurance to lawmakers who understood the need to increased homeland defense.

But when Secretary Hagel’s recently announced the administration would “restructure” (Washington speak for “cancel”) the SM3-IIB, instead of offering up a replacement, the administration says only “maybe.’

Not only does the current system require additional interceptors, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system needs a new exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV), the component that collides with the incoming warhead. It also requires a greater ability to discriminate the enemy warhead from debris or non-lethal elements of the system meant to confuse the missile defense system. The MDA intended a new warhead to do this, called the Multiple Kill Vehicle, but the Obama administration canceled this program.

The goal has always been to stay ahead of the rogue nation state threat, and we need to spend the resources and time to do so.  Meanwhile, the threat from our enemies has only increased.

Pyongyang now has a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which means it could roll out and deploy missiles on a moment’s notice, making it much more difficult for the U.S. to predict where and when a threat may materialize. Pyongyang has also shown it has improved its long-range capability by successfully orbiting a satellite on a Taepo-Dong2 missile.

Similarly, Iran is also improving its missile program. A Pentagon Fact Sheet provided to Congress, said, “Iran also continues to advance its space-launch and longer-range ballistic missile capabilities.  Iran has used a space-launch vehicle, the Safir-2, to place a satellite in orbit, demonstrating some of the key technologies required for ICBM development.”

The U.S. Strategic Command head, Gen. Robert Kehler, told Congress that “I am confident that we can defend against a limited attack from Iran, although we are not in the most optimum posture to do that today…it doesn’t provide total defense today.” Gen. Charles Jacoby, head of Northern Command, has agreed with the description of our defensive posture being “sub-optimum.”

Americans must be optimally defended against a possibly nuclear tipped missile from rogue nations. An East Coast site, combined with a new kill vehicle, increased deployment of GBIs, and the deployment of other mobile missile defense interceptors will significantly improve America’s missile defenses capabilities.

Specifically, MDA should be given the direction and funding this year to promptly conduct site evaluations on the East Coast of the United States to deploy a third missile site. The site should include the upgrade and relocation of the X-band radar currently at Kwajalien Atoll in the Pacific. The time for prolonged deliberations is over. The U.S. should take the necessary steps now to provide greater protection of the American people.

Trey Obering, a senior vice president at Booz Allen, was director of the Missile Defense Agency. Rebeccah Heinrich, a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation, was a House staff member for Rep. Trent Franks.

Comments

  • Don Bacon

    There is zero chance, because it is completely illogical, that Iran would attack the United States, even if it had the capability to do so. But hey, the national security state has to have a bogeyman or two, to keep the Pentagon gravy train flowing.

    • PolicyWonk

      True.

      And, the US military was also (just last year) very dubious about adding yet another missile defense base on the East Coast.

      Besides – ICBM’s are way too easy to detect. If anyone were going to attack the US, why choose the most overt method of doing so? Cruise missiles are far simpler technology, very hard to detect, and can be launched from a tramp steamer from several hundred miles off the coast.

      And missile defense does nothing about that.

  • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

    Our big wigs here got holes in the ground for this stuff don’t they. Surely they will have time to go join their funds as the masses are thinned out and the retaliatory strikes take out the whole of North Korea or Iran, anyone else in that event. Then they’ll come back up, have a few memorials and get the Stock Market back on track. America in it’s finest hour.

  • brownie

    Zero chance that Iran will attack? How about 12/7/41? Zero? Germany attacks Russia on 6/22/41? Ever read a book about military history, sir? Glad you have a crystal ball.

  • Lop_Eared_Galoot

    In a repeat of the CMC precursor conditions, Iran wants nuclear weapons to defend against the threat of U.S. invasion in the face of it’s selling oil exclusively outside OPEC pricing control to China, in Renmimbi.
    The USD is sustained in a massively overeased state of value by the fact that it is the principle medium of exchange in the oil trade. Change this to a more valuable currency like the Euro or RMB and global economics would change overnight.
    When Saddam threatened to do exactly this in 2000, we invaded his country, -knowing- that he had made no atomic materials purchases in Africa.
    To which I would add that the U.S. port control container check system is vastly less effective at controlling entry of fissile materials and for all I can see (Mexican DTOs walking and talking with known Terrorists yet no border control of ‘migrant workers’) there is no real defense of our landwards borders at all.
    So the real threat is one of someone putting a truck three blocks down the street from NYSE or the White House and walking away from the yield. I don’t think we can stop it if they can get inside our external borders.
    Having said this, SM3-IIb is capable of higher energy terminal intercepts against IRBM threats in the midcourse which means that it can defend Tokyo or Guam from anypoint inbetween Korea and the target zone.
    SM3-IIa (along with ERINT and THAAD once they get ashore) is sufficient to protect battlegroups and amphib landings from attacks by **centralized** ballistic delivery systems (not Pasdaran suicide speedboats) which would be the typical response of Iranian politicians seeking to retain absolute control over nation-ending capabilities rather than hand them over to nervous local commanders.
    Iran is in this for the long haul folks. They have always had a smarter-move approach to both staving off imminent defeat (red key force) and ending wars they couldn’t win (mines outside The Gates) in their fights with us but have otherwise been more ROE predictable and trustworthy than say the Iraqis in actual combat. This should tell us that they are not stupid or suicidal.
    They want to break the U.S. using the Chinese system of warfare without boundaries and the easiest way to do that is amalgamate Iraq under Shiia rule to recreate Persia and then start selling oil hand over fist in such a manner as would destroy the value of the USD, overnight, as China would uncouple the RMB from the USD and interest rates would soar from 0 to 11% inside a year, making it impossible for us to pay even the interest on our 66 trillion dollar debt.
    Is cancelling midcourse SM3-IIb defense wise? I don’t think so. Because AEGIS can be relocated to where it’s needed to cover unexpected threat lanes and offers at least /some/ capability, even against 7km/sec++ threats. GBI is only useful across a narrow arc of approach. We have shut down too much of the alternatives in NCADE and YABL to truly pretend that we can get the threat as it launches with SM3-IIa.
    But the fact remains that we are headed towards a total collapse of our currency base similar to that faced by the Germans in 1920-25 when a stack of Marks taller than a child would not buy a loaf of bread.
    Sequestration is only the beginning.

  • Don Bacon

    Trey Obering, a senior vice president at Booz Allen, was director of the Missile Defense Agency.

    Oopsy, Oberling forgot to mention that — according to his bio — he works with aerospace clients in the Air Force Materiel Command, Air Force Space Command, and NASA markets. I wonder what aerospace clients Oberling works with? Let me guess that one is Boeing Defense, Space & Security — Ground-based Interceptor contractor.

    Nice try, Trey.

  • J_kies

    Given the immutability of Physics and Geography – If Mr Kadish, Mr Obering or Mr O’Reilly had real concerns for Iranian ICBM’s, it was fully within their discretion to have done the appropriate architecture work and defined the appropriate basing to address that threat. This issue was known to the competent analysis community from the 1980s so you could also question their diligence in knowing their assigned portfolio.

    Having failed to do that due diligence preparation / groundwork as well as failing to appropriately question the engineering behind the Bush 3rd site (poorly conceived) or the similar timeline problems of EPAA Phase IV, its strange that a political agenda is pursued when the DOD appropriately cancelled phase IV.

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

      The GOP and others clearly believe this issue appeals to the base, and to Raytheon. The vigor with which Mr. Turner countered Ms. Sanchez when she raised objections to this last session made it very clear (from both their behaviors) that this had become a classic political dispute largely uninformed by physics or geography….

      • J_kies

        Colin
        A very rich discussion from the technical community has been ongoing, the emerging concensus appears to be that the MDA is not providing the needed intellectual capacity to make appropriate decisions or provide thought leadership for their mission area. Prior to DOD cancelling several of their flagship programs (not for ‘mere money’ issues) the MDA was in opposition to the DSB, the National Academies and several other major studies outside the news. Dr Coyle wrote in ACT as to the need to gain technically competent staff for the problem set.

        As to Mr Turner, I believe his letter to Mr Obama was pure political speech. Further its hard to believe that the House ‘BMD caucus’ actually cares about missile defenses when they fail to provide appropriate Congressional oversight (within their powers) and fails to work toward bi-partisan support of the missile defense mission.

        • ziggy1988

          ROTFL, that leftist pro-disarmament CLW propagandist and Obama admin hack Phil Coyle and the pro unilatetal disarmament rag ACT are supposed to be credible sources? LOL, since when? :)

      • ziggy1988

        Your claims are false. As a recent NAS/NRC report has demonstrated, an east coast site would be cheaper, more effective, and less irritating to Russia than a site in Poland. The difference is that the GOPers want to deploy the current three-stage interceptors, while the NRC wants to deploy smaller, lighter, two stage interceptors. The threat from Iran is real and has already begun to materialize. Iran has successfully launched a satellite into space. The USIC expects it to have an ICBM by 2015/2016.

        • J_kies

          Ziggy – What claims? Mr Clark is reporting materials from his sources or relating behaviors that he either saw or were captured by CNN. As to my material support, Dr Coyle is a technical performer and his writing stands on merit regardless of where he is published. Most of his article in Arms Control Today specifically cites the DSB and the National Academies studies for the issues of needed scientific expertise.

          It would be nice to have a specific citation for a public statement from the IC of credible evidence that Iran is working on an ICBM-size booster. ICBM development is rather public and essentially impossible to hide in the news based world we live in. To date, the Ashura their largest isnt anywhere near ICBM size (or range). While Iran did launch micro-sats; they used ‘sputnik like’ techniques and the Safir booster stack is not suitable to construct ICBM’s.

          Mr Montague (co-lead of NAS/NRC study panel) is adamant that no further GBI’s should be pursued regardless of basing, their GMD-E proposal has no relation to current GMD. Further the NAS/NRC report explicitly called out the expertise issue cited by Dr Coyle:

          From page 5-2 of the NRC report –
          “When the committee asked MDA to provide real signature data from all flight tests, MDA did not appear to know where to find them. MDA showed the committee summaries of results without the data to support them. It appeared to the committee that MDA has given up trying and has terminated most of the optical signature analysis of flight data taken over the last 40 years. In the committee’s view, this is a serious mistake.”

      • J_kies

        Ziggy – What claims? Mr Clark is reporting materials from his sources or relating behaviors that he either saw or were captured by CNN. As to my material support, Dr Coyle is a technical performer and his writing stands on merit regardless of where he is published. Most of his article in Arms Control Today specifically cites the DSB and the National Academies studies for the issues of needed scientific expertise.

        It would be nice to have a specific citation for a public statement from the IC of credible evidence that Iran is working on an ICBM-size booster. ICBM development is rather public and essentially impossible to hide in the news based world we live in. To date, the Ashura their largest isnt anywhere near ICBM size (or range). While Iran did launch micro-sats; the technique used ‘sputnik like’ and the Safir booster stack is not suitable to construct ICBM’s.

        Mr Montague (co-lead of NAS/NRC study panel) is adamant that no further GBI’s should be pursued regardless of basing, their GMD-E proposal has no relation to current GMD. Further the NAS/NRC report explicitly called out the expertise issue cited by Dr Coyle:

        From page 5-2 of the NRC report –
        “When the committee asked MDA to provide real signature data from all flight tests, MDA did not appear to know where to find them. MDA showed the committee summaries of results without the data to support them. It appeared to the committee that MDA has given up trying and has terminated most of the optical signature analysis of flight data taken over the last 40 years. In the committee’s view, this is a serious mistake.”