Over the past couple of years, we've noted the growing turf battle between the Army and Air Force over the critical mission of ballistic missile analysis. Traditionally, the Missile and Space Intelligence Center (MSIC), in Huntsville, Alabama has been responsible for tracking short-range ballistic missiles, defined as those with a range of less than 1,000 KM. While MSIC is run by the Army, it's officially part of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), headquartered in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the Air Force's National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, keeps tabs on medium and long-range ballistic missile systems.
The tug-of-war between MSIC and NASIC first surfaced back in October 2005, amid planned changes in the Defense Intelligence Analysis Program (DIAP), which we covered here. Under that proposal, DIA suggested moving much of the missile analysis mission from NASIC to MSIC. Then-Ohio Senator Mike DeWine caught wind of the plan and successfully defeated its implementation. Unfortunately, Mr. DeWine lost his re-election bid last fall, and operators inside the Beltway wasted no time in resurrecting the planned realignment. Last month, we noted that members of the Ohio Congressional delegation sent a letter to the DIA Director, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, expressing concern about a possible shift of analytical responsibilities--and jobs--from Wright-Pat to Huntsville.
More recently, the inter-agency dust-up has played out in Bill Gertz's "Inside the Ring" column in the Washington Times. On May 25th, Mr. Gertz reported that DIA was "arbitrarily planning" to reassign space-threat analytic functions from NASIC to MSIC. That prompted an angry response from Lieutenant General Maples. In a letter to the editor published Friday, General Maples stated that Gertz's assertion is "false." He also disputed claims that the reported mission realignment is based on "political interests," observing that resources are applied in a "reasoned manner" against the nation's critical intelligence issues. Additionally, General Maples claimed that NASIC and MSIC have an effective collaborative relationship, as evidenced by their recent work on China's ASAT program.
Both the Gertz column--and General Maples' reply--caught our eye, for obvious reasons. First, the Gertz piece suggested that the potential realignment has moved beyond the initial focus on ballistic missiles to include space and counter-space missions. If Mr. Gertz is correct--and he's certainly hard-wired into the defense and intelligence establishments--it would suggest that MSIC is mounting a major power grab, aimed squarely at areas of expertise that have been traditionally dominated by the Air Force (and NASIC, its intelligence production center).
It's also a bit unusual for a flag officer to respond to a relatively short item in a column, even if it was written by Bill Gertz. General Maples' letter underscores the gravity of this issue within the intelligence community, and his own desire to set the record straight. Readers will note, however, that his letter refers only to a reported shift in space/counterspace analytical missions; no mention is made of the much-discussed shift in ballistic missile analysis. I don't think that omission will do much to pacify Ohio Congressmen, or the folks at Wright-Patterson.
While no decision has apparently been made on the mission realignment issue, there is clearly a desire to expand MSIC's role in the analysis of missile and space issues. With Russian again rattling its strategic saber and increasing concerns about China's ICBM and ASAT programs, missiles and space represent a new "growth" industry in the intelligence community, which translates into resources and high-paying civilian jobs. And, MSIC has some powerful allies in pushing for realignment, including its "parent" agency (DIA) and the former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby. Did we mention that the MSIC complex includes the Richard C. Shelby Center for Intelligence? That should tell you where Mr. Shelby and his allies stand on realignment.
As we've noted previously, the real concern in this matter should be the continued availability of the best possible intelligence on enemy missile, space and counter-space systems. NASIC's efforts in those areas have been nothing short of superb, and we see no viable reason for "sharing" those missions with MSIC. The vast expertise and experience that resides at Wright-Pat is a national resource, one that would be difficult to replicate in Huntsville over the short term. Since many of the analysts now at NASIC would probably retire rather than move to Alabama, the potential mission shift would result in a dilution of our analytical capabilities, at the very time when such expertise is needed more than ever.