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Make Navy Missile Defense All It Can Be By: Henry F. (Hank) Cooper and Paul M. Weyrich
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, February 28, 2008


Around 10:30 (EST) last Wednesday evening, sailors on the USS Lake Erie Aegis Cruiser shot down a dead U.S. spy satellite that otherwise would have entered the atmosphere, possibly exposing populated areas to toxic hydrazine, with debilitating effects some have compared to chlorine gas. All should ponder several facts made clear by this important milestone.

First, all informed technologists understand that any ballistic missile defense (BMD) system that can shoot down long-range Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) also has the potential to shoot down satellites in low-earth-orbit (LEO)-such satellites travel slightly faster than ICBMs and move in similar altitudes above the earth.

Conversely, if the Aegis BMD system can shoot down a LEO satellite, as was recently demonstrated, it also has the potential to shoot down an ICBM-which leads one to ponder why sea-based defenses have not been empowered to intercept such long-range ballistic missiles.

Second, the Aegis system was the BMD system of choice for this important anti-satellite mission because Aegis ships could easily move into the launch location required to intercept the satellite at the appropriate time and orbital location to minimize the likelihood that unwanted debris might fall on populated areas.  This same flexibility can enable a global BMD capability because ships can operate in about two-thirds of the earth's surface which is covered by water.

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Third, this sea-based missile defense capability is now being deployed because President George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty, which for 30 years precluded even the testing of sea-based defenses that could protect the American people from ICBM attack-nor did it permit internetting of all the sensors that helped in shooting down the errant
satellite on February 20.

Fourth, Aegis BMD ships deployed around the world have not been given this ability to shoot down ICBMs-they are arbitrarily being limited to shooting down shorter range missiles; perhaps a legacy of the ABM Treaty days but one wholly unjustified technically, as made clear by last week's events which were the culmination of a 6-weeks crash effort to empower the existing system with an ability to shoot down a LEO
satellite-or, as noted above, an ICBM.

Fifth, this 6-weeks crash effort made clear that for about $25 million, such software upgrades can give an anti-ICBM capability to the Aegis ships now operating around the world-a good buy by any reasonable measure.  For a similar amount they can be given the ability to shoot down ICBMs in their ascent phase-so that ships in the Sea of Japan to
protect Japan against missiles from North Korea can also protect our Northwest against North Korean ICBMs.

The bottom line seems clear.  There is no better current missile defense buy than investing in the Aegis BMD system.  The Bush Administration and Congress should provide additional funds to accelerate development of the Navy missile defense system.  Specifically, an increase of $250 million in the President's budget now under consideration would provide:

*       The above-mentioned software improvements to give the existing Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) an anti-ICBM capability in ascent and descent phases;

*       By 2011 deployment of an additional 9 missile defense capable Aegis ships in the Atlantic-to total 11 in the Atlantic and 16 in the Pacific;

*       A 4-per-month production rate for the SM-3, which maximizes use of the current production facilities;

*       Rapid deployment of near-term terminal defense (Standard Missile-2, Block IV) to protect the Fleet against missile attack;

*       Plans for an East Coast Test Range that would also begin to provide an inherent defense against SCUDs on ships off our Eastern Seaboard;

*       Risk reduction activities and support to the Combatant Commanders to improve mission assurance (improved ability to deal with midcourse countermeasures, operations and testing support, test labs and training);

*       Initial development of a light-weight advanced technology kill vehicle (ATKV) for the Standard Missile, Block II.

When President Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, he made it possible, for the first time in 30-years, to develop, test and deploy a sea-based missile defense-and the Navy has responded with a 12-out-of-14 test record, including against simultaneous launches of ballistic and cruise missiles. Their recent anti-satellite success also demonstrates an inherent anti-ICBM capability.  A modest additional investment will help make this important sea-based global defense all it can be as quickly as possible.


Henry F. (Hank) Cooper is Chairman of High Frontier, was SDI Director and Chief US Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks. Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.


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