UPDATED: Pentagon Spokesman Responds, Lamborn Fires back

WASHINGTON: Rep. Doug Lamborn is determined to overturn an almost $200 million cut to US aid for Israeli missile defense systems. As a co-chairman of both the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus and the Missile Defense Caucus, as well as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Lamborn is well-positioned to mobilize Congress against the cut.

It’s one more example of how politically impossible it can be to trim programs, even in times of brutal budget pressure. Pro-Israel legislators won this same battle last year, when the automatic budget cuts known as sequester had thrown the annual funding cycle into even greater chaos than we have now.

[UPDATE: After the original version of this story came out, the Pentagon sent us this comment, raising questions about whether Lamborn or his colleagues will need to push to restore the missile defense money:

“The Department’s submission was determined in close consultation with Israeli leaders about their missile defense priorities and needs for the coming year, and fully meets Israel’s request,” Carl Woog, the Pentagon’s assistant spokesman said on the record in an email.

A Lamborn staffer wasn’t have any of it. “The Pentagon is giving the party line, but the reality is that these programs are vital for the national security of Israel and help protect the peace in the region by deterring Iranian and Syrian missile attacks,” the staffer said in an email. “Just this week we heard from well-placed Israelis saying that this funding is not sufficient.”]

The backstory: The administration’s fiscal 2014 budget reduced funding for “cooperative” US-Israeli missile defense — which in practice means US dollars funding Israeli projects — to $95 million. Congress slammed back so hard that when the dust settled and the appropriations passed, the cooperative programs were funded at $284 million, triple the administration’s request.

This year, Lamborn told me this afternoon, “I won’t say tripling is the goal, but increasing it dramatically is the goal.” The administration’s 2015 request for the cooperative programs is $97 million, just a hair higher than the figure Congress rejected last year.

That “cooperative” funding covers development of the Boeing-Israeli Aerospace Industries Arrow-3 and the Raytheon-Rafael David’s Sling, aka Stunner. (The video above depicts the first successful intercept test of David’s Sling). These anti-ballistic-missile systems which would protect against higher-flying and more sophisticated threats than the famed “Iron Dome,” which can only shoot down relatively crude rockets.

Iron Dome has its own separate funding line, with $220 million enacted for fiscal ’14 and $176 million requested for ’15. (For those keeping track, that means the administration is requesting $271 million for all Israeli missile defense programs put together). The 20 percent decline for Iron Dome is in keeping with a three-year memorandum of understanding between the US and Israeli — 2015 will be the third and last year — but Lamborn wants to see more money for Iron Dome, too.

Where would all this money come from? “That’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer to that yet,” Lamborn admitted. It’s worth noting that the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, recently begged Congress not to “help” the Defense Department by restoring money it had cut, because the Pentagon would just have to make up the cuts elsewhere.

Such zero-sum games pit one program’s constituency against another — but then Lamborn doesn’t want a zero-sum game: He wants the entire defense budget to increase. “My position on the Budget Control Act is to reverse the defense budget cuts and hopefully replace them elsewhere, or at a minimum keep the rest of sequestration [i.e. on domestic programs] in place,” Lamborn said. If necessary, he’d accept increasing the defense budget above the sequestration caps without making offsetting cuts elsewhere, though that’s hardly his preference: “My preferred choice is to take things like the overage on food stamps.”

So why does aid for Israel matter more than food stamps? After all, I challenged Lamborn, Israeli is a wealthy country, it has a world-class arms industry of its own —  which has occasionally tried to sell US-provided technology to China — and it’s militarily dominant in its region, from jets to tanks to an undeclared nuclear deterrent.

“It doesn’t just help them in their dangerous neighborhood, it can also help us,” Lamborn argued. Israel comes under frequent, albeit rarely fatal, attack from Hamas rockets. (Iron Dome shoots down some of the rockets, but they are so inaccurate they rarely hit anything of value anyway). The Jewish state also faces a constant threat from Syrian and Iranian long-range missiles, especially if Iran continues its nuclear weapons program. So Israelis have an intense motivation to develop and try out in real-world conditions new missile defense technologies that they can then share with the US.

“We certainly get something out of this equation,” Lamborn told me. “It’s not just a one-way street.”

If funding Israeli missile defense is such a win-win, I asked, why is the administration trying to cut it for the second year in a row? “I don’t know what they’re thinking,” Lamborn told me. “The only logic I’ve heard them express is that the three year memorandum of understanding concerning Iron Dome was coming to an end and they were closing out that agreement — even though we could use more dollars there. But that’s Iron Dome, not David’s Sling or Arrow-3,” the programs affected by the $200 million cut. “On those programs, I have heard no justification for a budget cut,” he said.

When we pointed out to a congressional source that appropriators would probably rapidly restore the funding — that, in fact, the White House may well be banking on that so it doesn’t have to find the money itself — we got this reply: “If the Administration is going to play that game, we’re going to take our shots at them.”

 

Colin Clark contributed a bit to this story.

 

Updated 6:20 pm with the Pentagon’s response to Lamborn; updated 9:20 pm with Lamborn staff’s response to the Pentagon’s response.

Comments

  • Don Bacon

    The inconvenient truth of the matter is that the cost ratio for rockets and short-range missiles vs. defensive systems isn’t great for the defender, even with clever “engage or not” algorithms like Iron Dome’s, which has a 66% intercept rate at best, and probably less. Studies by missile defense experts have indicated that Iron Dome’s successful interception rate may well be 5% or less

    Israel’s enemies have the capability of firing hundreds of rockets daily into Israel. So with Iran Dome you’ve got $50,000 missiles attempting to destroy $800 rockets, of which Hamas apparently had an unlimited supply.

    That’s the short-range missiles. Hezbollah is even better equipped than Hamas with thousands of long-range missiles In contrast to the short-range Hamas rockets, which fly through the atmosphere during their whole trajectory, the longer-range ballistic missiles — which the NATO missile defense system is designed to counter — spend most of their flight in space. For decades it has been known that trying to intercept a warhead in space is exceedingly difficult because the adversary can use simple, lightweight countermeasures to fool the defensive system. And then there’s Iran and Syria.

    So it’s money down the rabbit-hole. But that’s nothing new.

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

      I’m also skeptical of shooting down missiles with missiles, since the interceptor is usually more expensive than the incoming missile it shoots down. And in fact the Israelis are apparently working on an “Iron Beam” missile defense system that uses lasers:

      http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2014-02-14/israel-laser-shield-moves-closer-to-deployment

      • Marauder 2048

        The Israelis examined cheaper (per intercept) cannon C-RAM (Centurion, Goalkeeper etc) but rejected them due to the danger of high velocity cannon shell fragments or unexploded cannon shells raining down on the civilian population.

        • Larry A. Altersitz

          I’ve always been a fan of light (60mm-90mm) automatic cannon [Skysweeper, anyone? 75mm autocannon proposed for the Rapid Deployment Force Light Tank project?] for C-RAM due cost of system, cost per launcher and cost per interceptor. I’d think the gun positions would be on the outskirts of inhabited areas and use canister-type rounds as the kill mechanisms. 10mm steel balls in a thin-walled, scored projectile seems to me a good place to start consideration, rather than an HE-ADA fragmentation projectile. As for fragmentation dangers, keep people in bunkers.

          Don has it right: can’t fire $50K missiles at $800 rockets and not go broke. I’ve had similar thoughts on using cruise missiles against cheap targets for the same rationale.

          • Gary Church

            Hi Larry, how’s it going?
            The problem with guns is they shoot dumb projectiles that don’t go much faster and in some cases are actually slower than the missiles that can maneuver out of their line of fire. Which is why phalanx and goal keeper are no longer effective; missiles have programs to detect and evade gunfire now and they work. Make a shell that can maneuver? Then it works out that you might as well make it a missile for close to the same money. Except the interceptor always has to be far more expensive to hit another missile. Make the missile just a little more expensive and you have to make the interceptor several times more expensive to have a chance of hitting it. And it is just a chance; 2 out of 7 is the best so far and that is nowhere near good enough to save a target from a swarm attack. Which is why missile defense is a scam. The only defense is offensive offensive missiles to destroy the enemy if they launch on you. Launching from drones and using sensors on drones has advantages- launching from manned aircraft is all disadvantage. Which is why we are in the age of robots and missiles. Defense industry greed has put corporations and politicians in denial; and that could- in the worst case scenario- mean the end of the U.S.

          • Larry A. Altersitz

            Hi Gary, can’t WAIT for spring; it’s been brutal in the Philly area. Now, if I was working for the feds in DC, would have enjoyed a few paid days off ;-)))

            Yeah, dumb projos have limits, but if you fill the air with fast-moving debris, missiles don’t have a lot of armor on control surfaces and damage will reduce effectiveness. Maneuvering shells were considered a few years ago in 40mm IIRC, but nothing came of it.

            Just thinking before the meds kick in; if we placed cheap air-to-air (IR) missiles on drones, that could force incoming missiles to expend fuel by maneuvering, reducing range. If the El Cheapos used a burn-glide-burn motor, gives them greater range to engage incoming missiles. For ship defense, how about FAE projos/bombs that burst above the water, then detonate the cloud on command when the target ship or an AEGIS-equipped defender determines a missile was close enough to be affected?

            For last ditch and final protective fire efforts, I still like a beefed up, longer-ranged Iron Fist (tank/vehicle defensive system) to fire at closing missiles, Vietnam-era Skyhorse (large IED claymores covering helicopter LZs, placed by the VC/NVA) and MetalStorm(r) style mounts (multi-barrel systems with several grapeshot-type rounds stacked in each barrel, electrically fired) to try to stop the missile. Until we get directed energy weapons that can fire numerous times at a decent range with enough energy to disable the incoming missiles, walls of steel seem to be the only way.

            If your robots & missiles theory is true, wars are going to be fought only where forces can march against each other, because ships and planes will be greatly reduced in where they can operate. And does this hold world trade hostage to idiots with robots & missiles?

      • PolicyWonk

        Agreed.
        It is in general vastly easier/cheaper to outfox the interceptor than it is to hit the inbound missile.

        And, BMD does absolutely nothing to protect from cruise missiles, which are vastly cheaper, less sophisticated, easy to acquire, and can be launched from a cheap tramp steamer (or anything else large enough to carry one).

        Hence – BMD systems are little more than corporate welfare programs.

        • Marauder 2048

          “It is in general vastly easier/cheaper to outfox the interceptor than it is to hit the inbound missile.”

          Funny how remarkably few “easier/cheaper” methods have ever been reliably demonstrated; the US and USSR relied on MIRVs, MaRVs and high velocity RVs to erode BMD but none of those techniques can be described as cheap or easy.

          • Gary Church

            No one would “reliably demonstrate” outfoxing interceptors because it is bad for business. Very cheap and easy ways are decoys and wobbling the warhead. Wobbling degrades accuracy but also makes hit to kill impossible. Decelerating or accelerating minutely every few seconds at those speeds also makes hit to kill impossible. Missile defense is a scam; exactly like trying to intercept bullets from a rifle with bullets from another rifle- the speed and scale is similar. It is like the vitamin industry- everyone thinks they work but in fact they do not.

          • Marauder 2048

            The US and the USSR spent considerable sums on outfoxing interceptors with MaRVs and other techniques all of which were with very expensive and less reliable than MiRVing + penetration aids (a combination which is also very expensive).

            The sheer cost of outwitting ABM systems resulted in a treaty limiting such systems.

            Wobbling the warhead or repeated decel/accel..because heatshields, fuzes and other essential components/structures love uneven thermal and pressure loads. Doing so seriously degrades accuracy and reliability.

            Do you think the penetration aids/decoys that US, Russian or Chinese missiles carry are cheap and unsophisticated? They are not.

            Please let the Chinese, Russians, Indians, French, Japanese and Israelis know that they’ve been scammed by the wily US and her deceitful defense industry with respect to missile defense.

      • Gary Church

        Energy weapons are even easier to defeat than interceptors; a couple layers of reflective and refractory coatings and spinning the missile up the energy requirements so high it would take a bolt of lightning from the death star to stop such a warhead. It aint like in the movies; energy weapons will not work.

  • Don Bacon

    **…if Iran continues its nuclear weapons program.**

    Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program, although a lot of warmongers like to pretend that it does, as with Iraq.

    • James Hedman

      Those same warmongers also like to pretend that Israel doesn’t have one.

  • Don Bacon

    UPDATED:
    Iran now has medium range ballistic missiles with multiple warheads so Israel’s attempts to create a defense to an Iran response to an Israeli raid are fruitless, and it’s all money down the rabbit hole. If Israel attempts an aerial raid upon Iran, as it has threatened to do, it would result in Israel’s demise, Tel Aviv first. So forget the feeble (but expensive) attempts at missile defense intended to support a first strike..

    from Rep Lamborn’s website:

    My efforts in the area of foreign affairs are focused on supporting Israel and protecting our national sovereignty. As the co-chair of two Israel caucuses, I am one Israel’s strongest supporters in Congress. Israel is a key ally in the global war against terrorism and for the past sixty years has been a model of democracy and a pillar of humanity in the Middle East.[sic]

    Lamborn’s in his own world, where truth doesn’t matter. “Pillar of humanity.” hah

    • James Hedman

      What?!? You have some sort of problem with the Jews century old policy of ethnically cleansing Palestine of Arabs while actively pursuing a policy of replacing the American people with Mexicans? You must be an anti-Semite!

      • Gary Church

        And you must be…..joking I guess. Because if you are not you are an idiot.

  • ahmosis

    President Obama has FIRED nearly 200 General Officers from the US Armed Forces (can we say PURGED?), to silence critques of his defense cuts, undermining American and allied security, and encourageing Russia and their anti-Israeli thug cohorts. Obama is the real Manchurian Candidate / 5th columist and its time he was arrested for treason!

    • PolicyWonk

      What we can safely say, is that the general officer corps is BLOATED beyond belief. At last count, the ratio was ONE general per 600 soldiers.

      This nation could easily shed 3/4’s of the general/flag rank staff, and *still* be considered top heavy.

      • Gary Church

        Amen Wonk, you got that right

    • James Hedman

      Obama’s coolness towards Israeli saber-rattling and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs via border creep is the only good thing about him!

      • Gary Church

        No, the best thing about him is the guy that would have been president; which is why I voted for Obama. By far the lesser evil. After the Bush train wreck most Americans understand one more Republican administration will put 99 percent of us on food stamps. Are you ready for Hillary? She is up next. You better hope so.