Pajamas Media posted an important article over the weekend, outlining Democratic plans to "gut" the nation's missile defense programs, once they take control of Congress in January. According to Taylor Dinerman, a space expert who writes a weekly column for thespacereview.com, Congressional Democrats, who have long opposed missile defense spending, plan to use an extended and "unrealistic" testing program to put the nation's missile shield "on ice," until everyone is satisfied with the results.
Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan (the incoming Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee) is a long-time opponent of missile defense, and is expected to lead the fight for a protracted testing program. In the 1980s, the described President Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative as "destabilizing." Today, he claims that missile defenses must be subjected to more rigorous testing before deployment can proceed:
ÂTheyÂve not done the operational testing yet that is convincing,Â said Senator Levin during a post-election press conference. He was referring to the Ground based Missile Defense [GMD] system being installed in Alaska and California, to defend against North Korean missiles. He added that he favors stalling purchases of interceptor missiles - vital for missile defense Â until after testing is complete."
Levin's proposal has already gained support from key House Democrats, including Missouri's Ike Skelton, South Carolina's John Spratt, California's Loretta Sanchez and Representative Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii. Earlier this year, they sent a letter to outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, complaining that recent BMD tests are "highly scripted" and unrealistic, based on a threat from only a single, incoming missile.
Mr. Dinerman does an excellent job in highlighting the fallacies--and hypocrisy --behind this Democratic argument. Testing of complex weapons systems is, by its nature, highly scripted, allowing engineers to evaluate specific criteria. Equally specious are claims by House Democrats that "we have little to show" for 20 years of BMD research and development. Over that time, the U.S. has developed (and fielded) improved versions of the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, now capable of intercepting a variety of short and medium-range ballistic missiles. Sea-based missile defense is now a reality, too, thanks to development of naval interceptor missiles (Standard ER Block IVs), mounted on Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers). In fact, the Block IVs are so promising that the government of Japan has mounted a crash program to integrate those missiles into their own Aegis destroyers, to provide a sea-borne defense against North Korean missiles.
But the list of BMD success stories doesn't end there. Israel's Arrow II, arguably the world's most advanced missile defense system, was largely funded by U.S. research dollars and contains a huge chunk of American technology. The Arrow II has already demonstrated its ability to intercept medium-range missiles (like Iran's Shahab-3), and similar capabilities will exist in the U.S. THADD system, which enters operational service in two years. Mr. Dinerman also reminds us that the Democrats took a pass on a particularly promising BMD technology (Brillant Pebbles) that was cancelled by the Clinton Administration in 1993. Yet despite Democratic opposition, advances in BMD technology have steadily advanced, and the U.S. now has at least a semblance of protection against attack by rogue nations. Lest we forget, those interceptor missiles recently stationed in Alaska were on line and available to engage that North Korean TD-2 last July, should the missile have posed a threat to U.S. territory. Without those missiles, we would have no defense once the TD-2 left its launch pad.
Unfortunately, the return of Democratic control in the House and Senate could not come at a worse time for missile defense. Not only are existing programs in danger, but Mr. Dinerman also reports that the Bush Administration is preparing to prepose development of space-based missile defenses, capable of engaging more missiles during their most vulnerable "boost" phase. That ought to get Carl Levin's knickers in the proverbial bunch.
Dinerman's article does an excellent job in refuting Democratic opposition to missile defense in outer space, and there's no point in re-hashing his well-stated case. But let me add a couple of additional reasons for pressing ahead with BMD, including the orbital battle station
First, there's the growing missile threat to the CONUS. It's easy to scoff at the recent failure of the North Korean TD-2, which broke up less than a minute after liftoff. But that potential threat becomes more sobering when you consider that Pyongyang didn't begin developing short-range missiles until the early 1990s. Despite spectacular failures along the way, North Korea's missile program has continued apace, and it's simply a matter of time before Pyongyang perfects an ICBM, capable of hitting targets throughout the CONUS. Naturally, the North Koreans will share this technology with their friends in Iran, Syria, Venezuela and elsewhere.
There's an old axiom in missile research that goes like this: any country currently developing a medium range missile (say, an extended SCUD) can have a crude ICBM within a decade. However, this process could be easily accelerated with North Korean technology transfers and oil money from Iran and Venezuela, which is funding many of Pyongyang's advanced programs. Imagine a U.S. facing foes in the Far East, Middle East and South America, all armed with missiles capable of targeting our homeland with WMD. Under that scenario, BMD becomes a necessity, and the time to perfect and deploy that technology is now, not when Hugo Chavez gets his first TD-2 and a nuclear warhead.
But the case for BMD goes well beyond the threat posed by rogue states. Both Russia and China are deploying new generations of mobile ICBMs, likely equipped with advanced countermeasures. These countermeasures, coupled with projected system basing locations, will make it difficult for existing, land and sea-based missile defenses to engage these missiles. That's why a network of orbital platforms makes so much sense, creating a system that can engage--and eliminate--even those with on-board counter-measures, and those launched beyond the range of existing defensive systems.
And, there's another, potentially important benefit for space-based missile defenses. Depending on their location and configuration, these orbiting platforms could provide defenses for other, space-based assets, including communications and surveillance satellites. As we've noted previously, both China and Russia are aggressively pursuing offensive counter-space programs, aimed at eliminating our on-orbit assets.
How serious is this challenge? Simply stated, if you can neutralize the bulk of our low-earth orbit surveillance assets and communications satellites, the enemy wins the war. Our ability to direct far-flung military assets grinds to a halt and our economy collapses, to boot. Given that payoff, it's no wonder that China is spending billions on ground and orbital ASAT programs, and that Russia is mounting a similar effort. The orbital platforms described by Mr. Dinerman could provide some defense against these technologies, allowing us to intercept (and destroy) ASAT payloads before they become a threat. Currently, these critical national assets are virtually undefended. A platform that offers improved missile defense--and a possible space defense capability--seems like a no-brainer. But if Mr. Levin and his fellow Democrats have their way, existing BMD programs will be hobbled, and "next generation" projects like the orbital battlestation will never see the light of day.
Remember: America's ballistic missile defenses of 2015-2020 will be shaped by the Democratic Congress of 2007-2009. And, judging from the Levin plan and the letter from House Democrats, it looks like the party of Scoop Jackson is woefully out of step in protecting America.