Pentagon Studying Homeland Missile Defense Strategies, General Says

The head of U.S. Strategic Command said on Wednesday the Defense Department is considering strategies for augmenting homeland missile defenses, The Hill reported (see GSN, May 25).

Deploying ballistic missile interceptors on the East Coast is among a host of options being studied under a "hedge strategy," Gen. Robert Kehler told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Defense authorization legislation approved earlier this month by the House of Representatives calls for preparation of an East Coast antimissile site and provides $100 million for a study of potential locations (see GSN, May 18). The Senate version of the bill does not appear to include corresponding language. A conference committee of lawmakers from both chambers would be assigned to mesh the two bills.

It "remains to be seen" whether the United States needs an East Coast installation that would complement existing interceptor silo fields in Alaska and California, said Kehler, whose organization manages the U.S. nuclear deterrent and plays a role in missile defense.

The United States must be ready to counter missiles developed by nations including Iran and North Korea, Kehler said. Neither state has yet shown the capability to produce missiles that could reach the United States, though U.S. defense officials have warned that Pyongyang might acquire that capacity within a period of years (see GSN, Jan. 28, 2011).

Interceptors fielded in Alaska and California are primarily aimed at defending Hawaii, Alaska and the West Coast against North Korean missiles, Kehler said. An updated strategy is needed as new threats develop (Carlo Munoz, The Hill I, May 30).

Russia has regularly expressed concern about developing U.S. missile defense plans, particularly deployment of sea- and land-based missile interceptors in Europe. The systems would form the core of a NATO missile shield covering the continent. The alliance earlier this month declared the system had achieved an "interim" defense capacity (see GSN, May 21).

"We do not view the Russians ... as our enemies," The Hill quoted Kehler as saying during the event.

Several rounds of talks between Brussels, Moscow and Washington have not resulted in an agreement that would bring Russia into the missile defense effort. A primary sticking point is the Kremlin's demand for a legally binding agreement that the system would not be aimed at its long-range nuclear forces. NATO has rejected providing such an agreement while arguing the shield is developed with Iran in mind and would prove ineffective against Russia's massive nuclear firepower (see GSN, May 30).

President Obama told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in March that he would have greater "flexibility" to negotiate the matter after the November U.S. elections. Top Republicans have seized on the comment as suggesting Obama is preparing an agreement that could weaken the nation's defenses (see GSN, May 16). The administration has said no such deal is in the offing.

"We will not agree to any constraints limiting the development or deployment of United States missile defense," White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors stated in an April letter to House Armed Services Strategic Forces Committee Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio) (Carlo Munoz, The Hill II, May 30).

Kehler also played down the danger posed by China's nuclear arsenal, Agence France-Presse reported.

"I do not see the Chinese strategic deterrent as a direct threat to the United States. We are not enemies," he said. "Could it be (a threat)? I suppose if we were enemies it could be and therefore we at least have to be aware of that."

The Pentagon is faced with close to $500 million in funding rollbacks over the coming 10 years under the 2011 Budget Control Act. Another $500 million cut could be forced through the sequester process if Congress cannot by January reverse the legislation’s demand for $1.2 trillion in additional government-wide reductions, according to previous reporting.

Kehler said his budget focus is on nuclear warheads rather than the systems that carry them, AFP reported.

"There is investment money there for long-range strike aircraft, there's investment there for a follow on to the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine," he said. "I am most concerned that we make sure that we have the appropriate investment in place for the weapons complexes" (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, May 30).


May 31, 2012

The head of U.S. Strategic Command said on Wednesday the Defense Department is considering strategies for augmenting homeland missile defenses, The Hill reported.