Realizing a Global Layered Missile Defense System

By Peter Huessy
JINSA Visiting Fellow

Russia is demanding the United States stop building missile defenses in Europe, just as it simultaneously assists Iran in building the very missiles that threaten NATO.

By Peter Huessy
JINSA Visiting Fellow

Russia is demanding the United States stop building missile defenses in Europe, just as it simultaneously assists Iran in building the very missiles that threaten NATO.

In language reminiscent of the Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin is once again urging Washington to “better not to do this.” Russian Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov warned, “Taking into account a missile-defense system’s destabilizing nature, that is, the creation of an illusion that a disarming strike can be launched with impunity, a decision on pre-emptive use of the attack weapons available will be made when the situation worsens.”

In short, Makarov has warned that if the United States builds missile defenses, Russia will threaten to attack. This despite serial attempts by Washington to “reset” relations between the two former Cold War adversaries.

Central to the Russian attitude toward NATO missile defense objectives is a long standing view that missile defenses are an arm of aggression that provide a shield behind which a U.S. attack would take place. In fact, missile defenses both respond to existing threats and anticipate future threats.

What is America proposing to build? The U.S. major missile defense initiative is the EPAA, the European Phased Adaptive Approach. Over time, the missile shield will defend against short-, medium- and eventually long-range ballistic missiles. Current land and sea deployments protect against some of these threats.

But for better protection, and after appropriate testing, the Block 1B version of the Navy Aegis-based RIM-161 Standard Missile SM-3 will be deployed, to expand the defended area against short- and medium-range missile threats. Expected to occur in 2015, this will provide the near-term guts of the EPAA approach followed by the more capable SM-3 Block 2A and the SM-3 Block 2B versions.

Despite a successful test in the past 30 days, and while original plans were to buy 62 SM-3 interceptors, production next year may be cut by more than half, however, due to budget cuts made in the wake of a test failure in September 2011. The cuts assumed the cause of the failure would not be corrected any time soon. In fact, it was corrected in May 2012. This will undermine three things: America’s ability to fulfill the inventory needs of U.S. combat commanders, to acquire the missiles for a good unit price, and to best implement U.S. security policy.

The SM-3 interceptors can be deployed on both ships and on land (known as “Aegis Ashore” or “Navy Ashore.” They can defend U.S. interests in the Far East and Pacific, in Europe and the Middle East. To be clear, missile defenses are not a substitute for U.S. offensive weapons, but an insurance policy, which adds to deterrence.

As former Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, USAF (ret.) told me, missile defense denies an adversary the ability to blackmail the United States in a crisis. Chilton said a North Korean or Iranian leader might very well threaten the use of ballistic missiles as a means of coercion and leverage, to prevent the U.S. and its allies from protecting their interests.

Some critics have complained that until Iran or North Korea launch missiles that demonstrate sufficient range to hold Chicago at risk, there is little need to seek protection of the United States, as future elements of the EPAA are designed to do. But fire insurance must be purchased before your house burns down.

Given growing international cooperation between North Korea, Iran, Russia and China on ballistic missile development, strategic surprise is likely. We know current Iranian missile capabilities put much of central Europe at risk. The continental United States may very well be next. Should current Iranian rockets be deployed in Venezuela or from an off-shore freighter, the U.S. mainland would be at risk now.

In any case, as Senator Jeff Sessions, the third ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently said in warning against proposed cuts in current missile defense capabilities (specifically the Aegis SM3-1B), “it is better to have one in the hand than two in the bush.”

Critical to the effectiveness of the Aegis-based missile defenses is that they be “available where needed.” Having defenses on station avoids “a rush to war” where missile threats emerge over the horizon and threaten to turn a crisis into an open conflict. As former head of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization Dr. Uzi Rubin argued in a June 15 address, missile defenses now allow “us to choose to de-escalate.” Missile defenses also must be seen by both our allies and adversaries as sufficient to “do the job,” which makes a higher production rate for missile defense interceptors beneficial.

In 2006, shortly after it appeared that North Korea might launch its first ICBM, former Secretary of Defense William Perry advocated that President G.W. Bush launch a strike against the launch facilities using B-2 bombers. This “rush to war”, as I called it at the time, would indeed be one of the few options for an American President in the absence of deployed missile defenses.

Missile defenses provide the ability to accomplish a number of key goals. The United States can protect Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The deployment of Aegis-equipped ships with SM3-1B interceptors can accomplish three missions: (1) it provides a U.S. President leverage against the coercive or blackmail threats of missile launches; (2) it diminishes the terrorist aspects of missile threats; and (3) protects against the disruption of commercial shipping and the oil trade, critical to America’s economic health.

Combined with the U.S.-Israel alliance and the growing cooperation over Arrow, David’s Sling and Iron Dome missile defense systems, the full-up production of these latest versions of the Standard Missile optimized for missile defense pushes the United States and its allies closer to realizing the full vision of a truly global and layered missile defense system that, for the free people’s of the world, “provides for the common defense.”

Peter Huessy, JINSA Visiting Fellow, is President of GeoStrategic Analysis and the senior defense consultant at the Air Force Association. For more information on the JINSA Visiting Fellows program, click here.