Commentary: Build Third Missile Defense Site

April 3, 2015

Defense News:

Constance Baroudos

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system located in California and Alaska protects the American homeland from a limited long-range ballistic missile attack. However, there is no comparable system on the East Coast. A third missile defense site must be deployed to increase US protection from accidental or deliberate intercontinental ballistic missile attacks.

Moscow and Beijing are vigorously modernizing their nuclear capabilities. Over the next 10 years Russia will replace Soviet-era ICBMs with five variants of the SS-27 missile. The first version, the Topol-M, is fielded while the second model is under deployment and development of the third variant is in progress. Russia’s total ICBM force will contain 220 to 250 missiles by 2022, and 70 percent of them will be equipped with multiple warheads.

China has the “most active and diverse ballistic missile development program,” according to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, which estimates Beijing will have over 100 ICBMs within 15 years that could reach the US. The number and range of ballistic missiles is expanding and payloads are improving as older systems are upgraded and new units are formed. The DF-31 is one type of Chinese road-mobile ICBM with sufficient range to reach the US West Coast.

Iran and North Korea pose longer-term threats to the US as they are predicted to develop ICBMs capable of reaching North America in the near future. According to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Iran has conducted multiple successful space vehicle launches since 2008 — these could serve as a test bed for developing ICBM technologies because there is overlap between producing such vehicles and ballistic missiles.

Many members in Congress suspect Iran’s space program is a cover for a military ballistic weapons program. Even with ongoing nuclear negotiations, many experts predict that Iran will not forgo nuclear capability.

North Korea has publicly displayed its new road-mobile ICBM that can reach Alaska and has taken steps to field the system. Adm. William Gortney, head of US Northern Command, confirmed this ICBM complicates the ability of American defense systems “to provide warning and defend against an attack.” Pyongyang is known to have tested nuclear warheads and is believed to be developing designs that could fit onto its long-range missiles.

Washington must protect its citizens from missile threats accidentally launched from Russia or China due to human error or intentionally fired from Iran or North Korea. Deploying a third defense site is the responsible way to bolster protection; operational capability would be added and there would be additional time to shoot down an incoming missile.

The US should deploy another missile defense site only after critical components of the GMD are upgraded, such as the prototype kill vehicle currently in service and the long-range discrimination radar, to ensure an effective system is fielded. According to the MDA, a redesigned kill vehicle will allow interceptors to communicate with one another to confirm successful engagement and an upgraded radar will help discriminate warheads from decoys in a threat cloud…

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