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Pentagon Leader Says Missile Defense Must Be Supported

By | March 31, 2008

      Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England said that U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs must receive continued support.

      "We need to continue to support the programs" that form the layered ballistic missile defense system, England told a conference of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Washington, D.C. Programs comprising the missile defense shield have scored "dramatic progress," England said.

      England praised Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III, the MDA director who is stepping down later this year. As well, England noted that this likely is his last full year in office, because a newly elected president will enter the White House next year.

      England has served previously as the secretary of the Navy — twice, in two separate stints — and as the No. 2 leader in the Department of Homeland Security. He also was a longtime executive with General Dynamics Corp. [GD].

      Despite scorn and skepticism, England noted, the U.S. ballistic missile defense system has succeeded. "It can actually work very, very well," he said. And each successful test of a missile defense system increases confidence that it will be able to kill future incoming enemy missiles, he said.

      The United States needs a missile defense shield because it avoids coercion, England said, where any nuclear-armed nation with missile prowess could use nuclear blackmail against Americans.

      Rather than being a threat, as some Russians attempt to assert, "Missile defense is a stabilizing element in the world," England said.

      While the Feb. 20 U.S. shoot-down of a failed intelligence satellite by an Aegis-Standard Missile sea-based BMD system wasn’t properly a missile defense test, it still showed that the United States can protect not only its homeland but the lives and well-being of others around the world, England said. That intel satellite contained a tank filled with 1,000 pounds of toxic hydrazine propellant, which could have caused injuries if the satellite plunged out of control to the Earth in a populated area.

      The Aegis-Standard Missile system obliterated the satellite, and the fuel tank as well.

      "The outcome was very predictable," England said. The shoot-down proves "we are all safer today than we were a few years ago," thanks to the missile defense shield.

      Missile defense offers U.S. presidents an option they never had, England observed. While in the Cold War the only choice a president had if confronted with a rain of incoming enemy intercontinental ballistic missiles would be to order a massive retaliation, now there is the added possibility of shooting down incoming missiles, England noted.

      That success for the BMD shield has come despite misgivings and ridicule, he added, recalling that at one time the idea of missile defense was referred to derisively as Star Wars.

      He termed the plan to create a European unit of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system a big remaining challenge, saying it is urgent to complete agreements with the Czech Republic to obtain a site there for a GMD radar, and with Poland to obtain a site for silos to be filled with interceptors.

      England noted approvingly that other nations are joining in the move to create missile defense shields, such as Japan forming a sea-based system, and Israel developing systems such as the Arrow.

      Although it may be that the greatest threat to the United States is from a terrorist attack on the homeland, England said it still is true that the greatest long-term threat may be that the United States will fail to perceive the rising menace of ballistic missiles wielded by more and more nations, and thus fail to muster the political will to counter that threat with a BMD shield.

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