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Obering Says Interceptors Can Be Deployed In Poland On Time In 2013, If Congress Provides Needed Funds

By | June 23, 2008

      Interceptors in the planned European Missile Defense (EMD) system can be deployed on time in 2013 if Congress provides sufficient funding, though any requirement that a test- article interceptor be launched first might slow progress in the program, Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director said this afternoon.

      Obering spoke with defense journalists after speaking before a missile defense forum of the Lexington Institute, a think tank near the Pentagon focusing on defense and other issues. The forum was held in the Rayburn House Office Building.

      The interceptors planned to go in silos that would be built in Poland aren’t much different from interceptors in the existing Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD) system that now is up and running in Alaska and California, Obering noted. The European missile shield thus would be the third site.

      The main difference is that the European interceptors wouldn’t have the third stage used in the GMD interceptors, and there would be some other minor changes.

      Therefore, Obering expressed bafflement as to why there should be a requirement that a test-article version of the two-stage European interceptor first be launched before funding would be supplied for such things as advanced procurement of items for the interceptors needed there.

      His comments counter news reports that because of a lack of testing, the EMD won’t be stood up on schedule in 2013.

      Currently, the United States is negotiating with the Polish government to gain its permission to use a site in Poland for the interceptors in silos, and with the Czech Republic for permission to use a Czech site for an EMD radar.

      Obering said talks with the Czechs are going well, and have pretty well come to an end, and he is poised to journey to the Czech Republic to brief legislators there on the EMD system. They will decide whether to vote approval of the radar system.

      Further, Obering said talks are going well with Poland. While talks dragged on so long there was talk of shifting the interceptors site to Lithuania, he said Poland still is the preferred site for the United States. (Please see separate story in this issue.)

      Obering also repeated his earlier comments that there is a need to double the number of interceptors in some programs, which would mean increasing the production rate of those missiles.

      In his remarks to the Lexington Institute forum, Obering said that it is critical that the MDA should retain the mission of handling development of missile defense capabilities, even as it hands off individual missile defense systems, when they’re developed, to the various armed services. For example, only with MDA taking a unifying approach was the United States able to knock out an ailing U.S. intelligence satellite carrying lethal propellant fuel that otherwise might have struck a populated area somewhere on Earth, he said.

      Without the MDA role, "we would never have been able to do this if we had service ownership" of the various systems in the multi-layered U.S. missile defense shield, because the shoot-down could be done only if the Aegis sea-based system also had input from radars in other systems to help guide a Standard Missile to the kill, he said.

      Among other comments at the Lexington Institute forum:

      Dan Goure, vice president with the institute, said many may have lost perspective, and seen only delays and problems in missile defense, while missing the fact that there has been enormous progress toward erecting a workable shield to defend the United States and its allies from missiles launched by enemy nations.

      The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which President Bush dropped years ago, is dead, and should remain so, he said.

      The United States face a far different threat environment now than in the Cold War years when there was but one major opponent, the Soviet Union, he said. Now, myriad nations have access to missiles, and nuclear arms are proliferating.

      It is vital now to move forward with improving the U.S. missile defense shield, he said, proposing several moves such as instituting birth-to-death tracking of enemy missiles, expanding the globally deployable interceptor capabilities now seen in the Aegis/Standard Missile sea based systems and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system. The next generation of ground-based interceptors should be mobile, able to respond to changes in the threat environment, he said. And missile defense systems need improved discrimination powers, to discern between real warheads and decoys, or a multiple kill vehicle that can obliterate all of them.

      He also said that the Kinetic Energy Interceptor could be deployed at sea.

      Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, said that "missile defense isn’t just more practical and feasible than it used to be, it is also more necessary."

      Thompson cited the proliferation of missiles; the fact that nations controlling them may not be led by individuals as rational and competent as those who led the former Soviet Union; and the rising danger of miscalculations or accidental missile launches as more nations — and terrorists — wield them.

      Rather than increasing risks, Thompson reasoned, the creation of a U.S. missile defense system "may be the closest thing we have to a guarantee of national survival as weapons of mass destruction continue to fall [into] the hands of movements and actors whose motivations can only be guessed."

      Robert Soofer, staffer with the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that there are only so many places that funding can be cut for missile defense programs.

      For example, he noted, Democrats are on record as supporting the GMD system, though there is weaker support for less advanced programs such as the Airborne Laser and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor.

      Scott Fancher, executive vice president and general manager of missile defense systems with The Boeing Co. [BA], which leads the GMD and ABL programs, said that stepping back, there has been remarkable progress in missile defense systems in the past eight years, especially the past four years.

      This is true across the range of systems, he said, including those defending against short-, medium- and long-range enemy missiles, and systems hitting enemy missiles in their early boost phase of flight, in their midcourse, or in their terminal trajectory.

      The GMD system, while not perfect, has performed well in tests, and much is being learned as to how to improve the system, Fancher said.

      As for ABL, it also is moving well toward full assembly on a Boeing 747-400 jumbo jet, with a test involving a missile shoot-down set for next year.

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