Missile defense is not optional

This summer marked the ninth occasion on which hit-to-kill missile defense technology proved its worth. The GMD interceptor (which stands for Ground-Based Midcourse Defense) destroyed a target ballistic missile above the earth’s atmosphere in June. This demonstrated once again that hit-to-kill technology works against ballistic missiles and is worth the investment.

Building a strong missile defense is challenging, but it’s not optional. The technology needed to build a long-range, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was once far out of reach for all but the most highly developed countries. Today, the regimes most hostile to the U.S. are arming up.

North Korea recently celebrated the successful test of its Taepodong-II ICBM, which has a range that puts Hawaii, Alaska and West Coast cities within reach. And the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Affairs reported last week that Pyongyang is expanding its Sohae Satellite Launching station in the Northwest region of the country, and it could be completed this fall. According to the report, this site combined with new rocket technology will allow North Korea to launch an even more powerful missile that can reach longer distances than previously estimated. The location of the site, the size of the missiles, and the country’s recent illicit nuclear tests indicate the regime is preparing a missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon able to reach the U.S.

Moreover, intelligence shows that Iran and North Korea are sharing nuclear and missile technology. Diplomatic sources say that Iranian officials attended the last North Korean nuclear test (its third successful detonation), at which they claim to have made significant advances in miniaturizing a nuclear weapon.

Iran has also successfully orbited three satellites, demonstrating a launching capability with technology directly applicable to a long-range missile. The interim nuclear deal struck by the P5+1 with Iran makes no mention of its missile program. Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies notes that the Iranian newspaper Kayhan has quoted President Rouhani as saying, “Iran’s missile capability is by no means negotiable.” It appears U.S. diplomats have accepted this condition, at great detriment to U.S. security.

In his last interview as Defense Intelligence Agency director, Gen. Michael Hayden said he believed the threats to the U.S. are increasing, not decreasing. “In 2004,” he said. “there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries. A lot of these groups have the intention to attack Western interests, to include Western embassies and in some cases Western countries. Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland.”

Missiles are the weapon of choice for poorer countries. The onslaught of rockets Hamas is lobbing into Israel shows this all too well, and Israel’s Iron Dome system showcases the military need for defenses.

For the U.S. to deter the Iranian and North Korean missile and nuclear programs, it must take away those countries’ incentive to threaten with missile attack. It’s simply not enough for the U.S. to acquiesce to Iran when it insists on flagrantly violating numerous Security Council resolutions to develop its missile program. And it’s not enough for the U.S. to reprimand North Korea for conducting yet another illegal nuclear test, while inflicting little punishment that affects the program. The U.S. must have a robust and credible missile defense system to enable U.S. diplomats to engage from a position of strength.

This is why the timing of the GMD successful test couldn’t be more important. As the recent test proved, we have developed the necessary technology to protect us from some kinds of ballistic missiles. Now we need the political will to develop this technology and strengthen our defenses. The program is already adding a new “kill vehicle” — the projectile that actually intercepts the enemy missile in mid-flight — and additional sensors to improve missile tracking and targeting.

Congress must continue to add more funding to expand the system’s array of ground-based interceptors and the administration must move with a greater sense of purpose and urgency with its exploration of a possible third homeland interceptor site.

GMD is only one system and part of a much larger layered ballistic missile defense system. But it is the only one currently designed and able to intercept the kinds of long-range missiles that the most hostile regimes are developing. We must build on the progress of GMD, because while we take our time, the threats are moving full speed ahead.

Rebeccah Heinrichs is a foreign policy analyst specializing in nuclear deterrence and missile defense. She is a fellow at the George Marshall Institute and the former manager of the House Bi-Partisan Missile Defense Caucus.

This article appeared in the Washington Examiner at http://washingtonexaminer.com/article/2553553

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