Adm. James 'Sandy' Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is encouraging Pacific allies to share in the missile defense burden. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Just minutes before US President Barack Obama unveiled a new foreign policy initiative focused on training and advising US allies in the Middle East and North Africa, the Pentagon’s No. 2 military officer on Wednesday also touted the need for allies in describing missile defense in the Pacific region.
“We’re encouraging our allies and partners to acquire their own missile defenses and to strengthen regional missile defense cooperation that will result in better performance than individual countries acting alone,” Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, vice Joint Chiefs chairman, told the Atlantic Council.
He added that the United States “will continue to emphasize the importance of developing regional ballistic missile defense systems” while working through any political sensitivities that may arise with the deployment of the powerful American-built systems on foreign soil.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Pentagon is weighing a plan to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea that would give the country the ability to intercept a range of short, medium and intermediate missiles. And in speaking about the United States playing a more active role in supplying regional allies with advanced weapons, Winnefeld acknowledged that the issue is “very politically sensitive for several of our regional allies, but progress in this area would only increase our confidence in the face of persistent North Korean provocations.”
The US Army already operates a THAAD battery in Guam and a TPY-2 missile radar system in Japan, and the admiral said that “with the unpredictability of the North Korean regime, we may find ourselves doing more of this sort of thing in the future elsewhere in the region.”
This move toward more cooperation with allies is partly budget-driven, Winnefeld insisted, since “in a world of declining budgets, it’s likely we’ll come to rely more on those partners to resource the means for their defense, as we work closely together on the ways.”
Likewise, the admiral reiterated that the United States has plans to deploy the second TPY-2 radar to Japan by the end of 2014 “to both improve our homeland and regional defense capabilities” against the North Korean threat, along with continuing to operate the sea-based X-band radar in the region while it develops another long-range radar system to be used in the Pacific region around 2020.
“This is about ensuring we can deny the objectives of any insecure authoritarian state that believes acquisition of deliverable weapons of mass destruction is key to the preservation of its regime,” he said.
Closer to home, the admiral offered a robust defense of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program, which hasn’t notched a successful shot against a missile in more than five years.
At issue is the replacement to the older Capability Enhancement (CE)-I kill vehicle with a newer, untested CE-II kill vehicle that is slated to be operational in 2017 despite never having been tested successfully.
Many observers — and members of Congress — have voiced deep concern over the fact that the US missile defense system has yet to be tested against intercontinental ballistic missiles, and that the planned CE-II kill vehicle has not been tested outside of simulations, despite being installed on 10 of 30 rockets in the US arsenal.
In March 2013, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the Pentagon would spend $1 billion on 14 new missile interceptor sites in Alaska, bringing the nation’s total to 44 sites. The Missile Defense Agency announced last year that in addition to the two ground-based interceptor sites it operates in Alaska and California, it would look at potential sites on the United States’ East Coast to house a third site.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that expanding the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system to the East Coast would cost about $3.5 billion over the next five years
Winnefeld insisted that in simulations, the CE-II “performed magnificently” and that “we fully intend to put those interceptors into the ground by the end of 2017 in order to increase our capacity to stay ahead of the threat. As we announced last year with the extra 14 [interceptor sites] we will have 44 interceptors in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base,” he said.
“Our next shot, this time against a target is coming soon,” he insisted, “and we’re doing everything we can to make it a success.” ■