A New Approach for U.S. Missile Defense?

March 26, 2015

Breaking Defense:

Sometimes it takes real candor at the highest levels to bring about needed change. A good example is the November 5, 2014 memo by Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno, and Navy Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert on the need for a new approach to U.S. missile defenses. That memo to then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is back in the news now that the SecDef’s February 4 reply has become public. (Hats off to colleague Andrea Shalal for breaking this story: “Pentagon plans hard look at missile defense programs. The Editor.)

Now the question is, will the Pentagon bureaucracy blunt the value of this important candor by arguing that the current approach is sound and only needs tweaking?

“Our present strategy is unsustainable in the current environment and favors forward deployment of assets in lieu of deterrence-based options to meet contingency demands,” Greenert and Odierno wrote.  Not pulling any punches, they explained that modern threats, “… continue to outpace our active defense systems and exceed our Services’ capability to meet Combatant Commanders’ demand.”

The U.S. military wants to address these needs, and a recent Army briefing explains some of the problems that have been encountered in battle, military exercises and missile defense tests.

One persistent problem area has been an “Ambiguous Air Picture” that is, “lack of a single integrated air picture” which in turn leads to an “unacceptable level of confidence in classification, identification and discrimination of aerial objects,” and “lower level soldiers making critical decisions without adequate information.”

The result, the briefing explains, can be fratricide, as has been seen both in battle with Patriot and in simulation exercises where mock enemy forces confront friendly forces.

Other cited problems are a “lack of flexibility in employing assets” resulting in “overdeployed forces,” an unacceptable logistics burden, and the inability to “defend critical assets and maneuvering force against [the] full range of aerial threats.”

This briefing makes clear the daunting complexity of U.S. missile defenses, and the failures that cause our missile defenses to not only miss their targets, but also to confound nearby U.S. military operations…

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