President Obama’s Dangerous Missile Defense Shell Game

What do you get when you cross successful homeland defense missile testing with the Administration’s defense budget?

Funding cuts.

As strange as it sounds, that is precisely what faces Congress as it assembles its annual defense spending bills.

On May 9th, a new U.S. interceptor missile capable of protecting our shores from ballistic missile attack from ever more aggressive and arrogant global despots was tested near Hawaii.  It was a loud, shiny and reassuring success.

This Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IB was launched from the USS Lake Erie, then acquired and destroyed a target missile deployed from Kauai.  This “Block IB” is a next generation defensive missile based on the “Block IA” currently deployed on U.S. Aegis-equipped naval ships.

Our military leaders are looking to the Block IB not just to protect our allies and interests around the globe, but to deflect any catastrophic missile attack on the United States.  Yet despite the recent successful test and its promise for homeland defense, SM-3 IBs are drastically and dangerously cut under President Obama’s FY2013 budget.

This is one example of the results of President Obama’s perilous $487 billion in cuts to key defense programs. In fact, despite White House rhetoric about the importance of defense cuts in deficit reduction, Pentagon spending is third in line behind entitlements, domestic programs and now, interest payments on the debt. Defense represents roughly 20 percent of overall spending, but nearly 50 percent of cuts.

Missile defense is not the only funding problem in the Administration plan. Air Force cuts are causing significant decreases in active duty, reservist and Air National Guard members and aircraft.  The Navy, at its lowest capacity since 1916, is now delaying completion of critical Aegis-equipped submarines. Top Army brass has noted that drastic cuts by the Obama Administration are ”major concerns.”

Congress must now correct these mistakes in the President’s budget -- starting with funding to the Missile Defense Agency, cut nearly $5.5 billion from budget levels in the Bush Administration.  And worse, what little is left is going to the wrong place.

Last fall, Congress wisely allocated funds to existing missile systems Blocks IB and IIA, recognizing the importance of getting these defenses in place - fast.  It cut allocation to what is so far a theoretical, pretty-on-paper future SM-3 variant, “Block IIB.”

But in its 2013 budget, the White House reversed Congress’ prudent course, baffling security experts. It slashed the Block IB budget by $300 million, decreasing missile availability from a planned 62 by 2015 to an unacceptable 29.  Meanwhile, the budget added $224 million in new funding for the undeveloped Block IIB which will not ready until late 2021, at best.

That makes no sense, until you consider Russia’s position on the Aegis-ashore defensive capabilities we promised to our European allies, and President Obama’s recent comments to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

In early May, Russia’s Defense Chief General Nikolai Makarov unabashedly noted his country would consider a pre-emptive strike against U.S.-supplied land-based missile-defense systems in Europe scheduled to be in place by the key date of 2020, as they could also target Russian (offensive) missiles.  This comes on the heels of Obama’s overheard comment to Medvedev in March that he would have “more flexibility” in his second term to deal with missile defense.  The recent NATO and G8 Summits, which Russian President Putin declined to attend, generally ignored the issue.

If defensive missiles scheduled for 2015 are underfunded, while a program for un-developed missiles not available until well after 2020 is funded, that could certainly solve part of the Administration’s Russia problem.

As the rest of the world -- including unstable, hostile and aggressive regimes like Iran, North Korea and China -- ramp up ballistic capabilities, we are going backwards in technology and supply.

Iran and North Korea each have over a thousand ballistic missiles and are pursuing offensive nuclear-arms capability. China’s missile arsenal is growing while it tests anti-ship ballistic missiles. Russia is currently acquiring thirty-six new intercontinental ballistic missiles.

There are many battles to wage in the war to retain our military dominance and homeland security, but infusing $10 to $12 billion in missile defense spending should be our number one priority. That commitment will ensure funding technologies – including the SM-3 IB -- critical to the security of our deployed troops, allies and homeland.

Without the assured safety these missiles provide, there’s no point in discussing much of anything else.


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