Peace, Iron Man says on the subject of his father helping beat the Nazis and the Soviets, means having a bigger stick than the other guy.
Unfortunately, while it seems like the world may feel safer than it did during World War II and the Cold War, it actually isn't. There's more firepower on the planet, more people living in more densely packed urban targets than ever before and more nuclear powers than ever before – nine at last count and maybe 10 if Iran can take advantage of another weak Democrat in the White House.
Or as Iron Man might glibly say: a lot of guys have more, bigger sticks. Meaning that the United States, as the prevailing force of cultural, economic and military stability on the planet, doesn't have the luxury of falling behind in the stick department.
We live in a volatile world, full of bad actors who wouldn't hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction against civilian populations: nations and non-state actors unburdened by internal political elements that want to "give peace a chance." Meanwhile American nuclear superiority is waning. Nobody's designed a new nuclear weapon or built a new one in the U.S. since the 1980s and early 1990s respectively, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned, way back in 2008 – the same year "Iron Man" came out – noting that, "At a certain point, it will become impossible to keep extending the life of our arsenal."
Right now, perhaps the most important component of our national security complex is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the Ballistic Missile Defense System, which provides the power to engage and destroy limited intermediate- and long-range missile threats that might jeopardize the United States homeland.
While there was a general drawdown of military resources after the fall of the Soviet Union, the rising North Korean threat spurred creation of the GMD, which the DOD has funded to the tune of $53 billion over the last 25 years. Recognizing the North Korean threat, President George W. Bush withdrew from a 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) with the Soviets – citing the shift in geostrategic challenges – a shift that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced was acceptable as the withdrawal posed no threat to his Federation.
The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) placed the first GMD interceptor at Fort Greely, Alaska, in 2004 and the program has continued to grow since then. It uses integrated comms networks, fire control systems, globally deployed sensors and Ground-based Interceptors that can detect, track and destroy missile threats. Today, additional terminals are now in operation at Fort Drum, New York; Shemya, Alaska; and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Uncle Sam plans to spend $10 billion over the next five years to continue sustaining this sea-to-shining-sea protection net, yet bizarrely, they want to fix something that ain't broke.
Boeing has served as the lead system integrator for GMD its entire existence, meaning it's managed the system's development, systems engineering, training and operations. But MDA wants to wrestle management of the program away from Boeing, despite its many years of service. This could create a host of problems at both the strategic and operational levels.
MDA doesn't have a sufficient number of staff to do the job, there's no comparable system to inform their managing the GMD and the learning curve required may lead to dysfunctional management issues, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. In short, the MDA may not be as good of a systems integrator … as the guys who've been doing it for more than two decades.
Regardless of the conflict over the presidential election and the narrow margins in the House and Senate, the issue of missile defense bridges the political gap and enjoys strong bipartisan support. As the military seeks to improve and expand the program in response to emerging threats from North Korea, Iran and possibly others – it's too important to leave to chance. The military needs the resources to make the GMD a suit of armor around the United States.
We live in the real world. More to the point, we live in a really dangerous world and we don't have Iron Man to protect us. We need stay the course with the GMD to protect the homeland from the hostile powers who would set the world on fire if they could rule over the ashes. We need more missile defense than you can shake a stick at.
Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. Read Jared Whitley's reports — More Here.
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