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.[[AD]]
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
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
* 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.