U.S. Needs Flexible Defense to Meet Evolving Missile Threats, Pentagon Says

Foreign nations' evolving efforts to develop continent-spanning ballistic missiles require the United States to possess a strong and adaptable missile defense system, a high-ranking U.S. Defense Department official said on Monday (see GSN, March 21).

The United States' principal domestic defense against a long-range ballistic missile strike is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program. The system -- now comprised of 30 land-based interceptors fielded in California and Alaska -- is sufficient for safeguarding the country from potential missile attacks by Iran or North Korea, the Pentagon quoted Assistant Defense Secretary Madelyn Creedon as saying during a missile defense conference in Washington.

"Maintaining this advantageous position is essential. As the threat matures -- and it will -- we will continue to improve the GMD system, including enhanced performance by the (interceptors) and the deployment of new sensors," she said.

The Defense Department is seeking $9.7 billion for antimissile projects for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1, and $47.4 billion over the next half-decade. While the budget request is a small amount lower than last year's, Creedon said the figure would be sufficient for preparing both domestic and sectoral protective systems.

Necessary enhancements include a space-based missile monitoring system and next-generation Standard Missile 3 2A and 2B interceptors, she said. "These efforts will help ensure that the United States possesses a superior capability to counter projected threats for the foreseeable future," the official added.

The U.S. military is preparing for a variety of potential missile dangers, Creedon said. "The United States must be well hedged against the rapid emergence of a threat that undermines the advantage we have today."

Planned antimissile enhancements include the creation of two-stage land-based interceptors; finishing work on 14 GMD silos at Fort Greely, Alaska; and the acquisition of five additional land-based interceptors.

Plans to field SM-3 2B interceptors in Europe in approximately eight years would give the United States the opportunity to attempt an initial ICBM intercept in the event of potential attacks from Iran or other actors, according to Creedon.

Following 10 years of advancements in technology capable of defeating short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, "the United States is now capable of significantly strengthening the protection of its forces abroad and assisting its allies and partners in providing for their own defense," she stated.

Foreign nations are quickly building up their short- and medium-range missile attack capabilities in regions where U.S. troops are stationed. To counter this danger, the Pentagon is assessing possible options for fielding defense technologies that are easily transportable, adjustable and well-suited to the area of operation, she said, adding that these regional missile shields would also enhance the security of the continental United States (see GSN, March 27).

The U.S.-NATO program to build a missile shield in Europe to defend against a possible strike from the Middle East is an example of this adjustable, region-specific approach. Under the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach," increasingly sophisticated SM-3 interceptors are to be fielded between now and 2020 at bases in Poland and Romania and on warships home ported in Spain. European NATO members would augment this core U.S. effort by linking up and improving their own antimissile capabilities.

Two of four Aegis-equipped U.S. missile destroyers are to arrive in Spain in 2014 while Romania and Poland are respectively set to receive next-generation SM-3 interceptors around 2015 and 2018. The planned fielding of SM-3 2B missiles in Europe around 2020 is aimed at giving the United States the opportunity to attempt an initial ICBM intercept in the event of potential attacks from Iran (U.S. Defense Department release, March 27).

March 28, 2012
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Foreign nations' evolving efforts to develop continent-spanning ballistic missiles require the United States to possess a strong and adaptable missile defense system, a high-ranking U.S. Defense Department official said on Monday.

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