America’s missile defense capabilities took a quantum leap forward earlier this month when the guided missile cruiser Lake Erie took part in a missile-defense test and shot down a short-range missile over the Pacific.
The newest generation of the Navy’s front-line missile, the SM-3, was launched from the rolling deck of the Lake Erie, identified and tracked the target missile, and destroyed it over the open sea using a kinetic warhead.
This newest SM-3 variant, known as the Block 1B, provides the Navy, our troops and the nation with the capability to expand and improve our missile defense system. Whether it’s in an active combat theater or providing homeland missile defense, the May 9 test of the Block 1B proved that we can “hit a bullet with a bullet” and provide a higher level of missile defense.
It also puts us on the path to the future SM-3 variant that will further enhance the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense system and ultimately provide the capability of tracking and engaging short-, medium- and long-range missiles within a 360-degree sphere of action.
But before we cheer too loudly, it’s important to understand that naval commanders at sea may not get this proven weapon. The Obama administration’s latest budget proposal seeks to reduce funding for SM-3s by more than 50 percent, an action that would further reduce the Navy’s inventory of available weaponry. This proposal will put Americans in harm’s way.
Given the president’s current trajectory for drastic cuts to missile acquisition, he’s poised to violate a primary tenet of the American war fighter: If you find yourself in a fair fight, it’s because of bad planning. Military commanders don’t want a fair fight; they want every advantage they can muster when they go against an enemy. This includes a full complement of SM-3s. Anything less would be bad planning, particularly in light of the Block 1B’s success.
More importantly, the American people and our troops deserve every advantage.
Lest we become too complacent, the United States has real enemies who are doing everything they can to give themselves the advantage. Iran is continuing its nuclear ambitions and has produced a number of advanced missiles that can deliver hugely destructive payloads across the entire Arabian Gulf region.
North Korea is also in high pursuit of longer-range missiles, some of which could have the range to strike Hawaii or Alaska.
The SM-3 Block 1B remains in development and is on track for deployment by 2015. It’s already demonstrating success in addressing future military threats and those to the homeland. According to Taylor Lawrence, president of SM-3 maker Raytheon Missile Systems, “This next-generation variant of the SM-3 is critical to the ballistic missile defense of the U.S. and our allies, because it can defeat the more sophisticated threats emerging around the world today.”
While nobody in or out of uniform wants to get involved in a shooting war, we absolutely do not want to find ourselves in a fair fight should Iran or North Korea escalate things militarily.
There’s no question that these are difficult times for the budget. Whether it’s defense spending or funding for any other agency, the federal budget needs to be reined in because our current level of spending is simply unsustainable. But we don’t achieve the necessary balance between cost savings and robust defense by refusing to fully fund the acquisition of a proven weapon system when we’re faced with well-armed belligerents in two separate theaters.
Ambassador Henry Cooper, former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton have both pointed out the deficiency of the Obama administration with regard to missile defense. The threat is too grave to ignore what the SM-3 Block 1B will bring to bear, economically and in a timely manner, in our defense.
The SM-3 Block 1B did its job in spectacular fashion. Now, it’s time for Congress and its appropriators to do their job by rejecting the administration’s cuts to missile defense and providing our Navy commanders the full inventory of defensive missiles they need to do their jobs.
Randy Duncan, a retired U.S. Navy captain who served at the Defense Missile and Space Intelligence Center and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He is a consultant for SAP America in Newtown Square, Pa.