Missile Defense, Part II

Staff Columnist

Last week in these pages we explored the serious subject of missile defense as published in NATIONAL REVIEW. As promised, we will for this week’s pages treat the remaining Part of Thomas Karako’s Article.  Thanks for reading.

Karako:  “Rebalance to the homeland.  As of today, America’s only line of defense against a long-range ballistic missile is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, an integrated network of interceptors and sensors.  GMD provides a critical but thin layer of defense against small-scale attacks of relatively unsophisticated missiles.  In the event of a more sophisticated or larger-scale attack in the near future, America’s homeland defenses could be strained unless we take steps to improve their reliability, capability, and capacity.

The need for such improvement applies particularly to the  ground-based interceptor (GBI).  Besides the booster that  propels it into space, a GBI includes an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) that hunts down and collides with an incoming warhead.  Around 37 GBIs are currently deployed in Alaska and California.  That number will rise to 44 by the end of 2017.  To keep pace with North Korea’s ICBM development, however, additional steps are required.

Another option remains the addition of a site on the continental U.S., possibly on the east coast, at a cost of perhaps $2 billion.  Besides housing 10 to 20 interceptors, such a site would add depth to the existing site in Alaska and improve our ability to shoot at a threat missile more than once.”

Other, less expensive alternatives must therefore be considered.  Today’s are all in silos, but developing a transportable version is one option, perhaps as a bridge to a full site sometime in the future. Such a concept would takeGBIs like those fielded today out of the silo. They would be carried on trucks and readied for launch during times of heightened threat.  They could be stored at a depot on the East Coast or at Vandenberg, where some four GBIs are already deployed.”

Karako writes: “While homeland missile defense merits greater attention, regional missile defense for U.S. forces will remain critically important for the foreseeable future.  Regional missile defense programs include the Navy’s sea-based missile defenses on Aegis ships and the Army’s Patriot and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) programs. The fleet of 34 Aegis ships capable of ballistic-missile defense is now down by two.

The Army’s Patriot and THAAD force may also require greater capacity. The Army’s current air and missile defense is a wisp compared with  what it was during the Cold War.  It would be seriously challenged to meet more advanced threats from Russia or China today.”

“Rebalance from Earth to space.  A second major way to advance U.S. missile defense capability would be to field a new space layer of orbiting sensors.

Space provides a unique vantage point for missile defense sensors, qualitatively  different  from that of the ground-based radars currently in use.  Observing a missile from space improves our ability to distinguish the deadly warhead from the associated flying junk pile of debris that accompanies it. Because of its position high above the earth, an orbiting  satellite can follow a threat missile for a longer time than can a ground-based  radar.  The combination of sensors both on the ground and in space would substantially improve our picture of incoming missiles, permitting earlier intercept and reducing the likelihood of wasting interceptors on false targets.

On paper, each of the last five administrations has had plans for a space-based sensor layer for national missile defense, but so far none has been deployed.  The U.S. operates the legacy Defense Support Program and space-based infrared satellites for early warning.  But detection of a missile’s launch is not the same as more precisely monitoring its trajectory and location so as to tell the interceptors where to go.”

Karako again:  “ Today, the U.S. still has no operational space-based system for the critical missions of tracking threat missiles and distinguishing the warhead from other objects in space.”

Karako concludes:  “Missile defense can be a complicated enterprise, but it id no longer mere theory.  It has moved from vision to real-world capability.”

With thanks to Thomas Karako and NATIONAL REVIEW.

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