Missile defense remains a high priority for most Americans. The reason is clear — the world is a dangerous place.
Whether it’s North Korea’s missile ambitions or Iran’s, or some rogue terrorist group that obtains a missile, the ability to defend the American homeland from a missile attack is critically important. As a bumper sticker I once saw said — ''One Nuclear Missile Can Ruin Your Whole Day!''
About 45 years ago, Ronald Reagan and GOP Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming shared breakfast at the ranch of GOP Sen. Paul Laxalt. Virtually no one knew that this meeting took place or understood how important it would be to America’s future security.
As friends shared breakfast, Wallop explained the need for a robust missile defense. Once elected to office, President Reagan made it a national goal to develop effective high tech defenses against missile attack. That policy objective was an important factor in the U.S. winning the Cold War.
Simply stated, even before missile defense was able to shoot down a single missile, it was making America safer and more secure.
For a variety of reasons — budget constraints being chief among them — the DOD canceled several plans over the past twelve years to design an upgraded kill vehicle for our long-range, ground-based midcourse missile defense system (known as GMD). Now, the DOD plans to build a new interceptor for the GMD system.
The goal is for this new interceptor to come online as early as 2028. However, because it is a new technology that is being developed, there is no guarantee that it will be ready by then. It could slip or be delayed by a year or two or even three or more.
In the meantime, it makes sense to at least maintain and upgrade our current interceptors to make sure that we don’t leave ourselves vulnerable to missile attack between now and the day the new interceptors come on line. We only have 44 interceptors as it is. And some of them are as old as the program.
So we must make sure that for the next ten years, we are not slowly becoming more and more vulnerable to a missile attack. For this reason, the DOD should start a robust service life extension program for GMD so that we can continue to protect ourselves against the risks of a dangerous world.
Plus, if our enemies know that we have a new more capable defensive system coming, we must make sure to keep our current defenses as robust as possible, so that we don’t look more vulnerable to attack now, but seem less vulnerable in the future. That might only accelerate risks and encourage our enemies to be engaged in dangerous and provocative attacks.
This, of course, is not an argument against developing better defenses. It is an argument against allowing current defenses to slowly degrade.
With North Korea extending its nuclear missile reach and accuracy, and with Iran working to expand its nuclear capabilities, now is not the time to leave the proverbial front door ajar. We ought to slam it shut, and lock it tight.
The fact that we are planning to build a new defensive perimeter in a decade shouldn’t make us willing to leave the front door ajar for the next ten years.
We can maximize our security and defenses by making sure that we have a robust sustainment program for our existing missile defense system and interceptors. That would include making sure that our overall system is fully operative and optimized, and that the personnel are well trained and making incremental — but important — improvements and upgrades.
We should also commit ourselves to digital engineering and digital modeling within our missile defense program so that we can easily make improvements and identify weaknesses and risks earlier in the process. That saves money and speeds up design, development and deployment.
This approach would allow us to make improvements to the existing missile defense system, while also helping us develop and deploy the next generation interceptor.
But it isn’t just a design help — it also saves tax dollars and means we can obtain immediate upgrades and the next generation defensive systems sooner. That’s a win-win. Taxpayers save money and the nation is better protected and protected sooner.
It would be dangerous to simply allow our current defenses to continue to age and decline while our adversaries are increasing their offensive capability. And while the plan to develop a new, next generation interceptor is certainly needed, the fact that it could still be almost a decade away means we need to do some simple upgrades now.
The Biden administration and Congress must not allow Kim Jong Un, the mullahs in Iran, or anyone else to hold Americans hostage to the threat of missile attack. That means planning wisely for the future AND making sure that we are protected here and now.
George Landrith is the President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. To learn more about Frontiers of Freedom, visit www.ff.org. Read George Landrith's Reports — More Here.
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