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Hunter To Seek Increased BMD Funds After North Korea Missile Launches

By | July 17, 2006

      Congress should place ballistic missile defense (BMD) on a fiscal fast track, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), said, vowing to seek more funding for some select BMD programs.

      Hunter didn’t specify just how much money he will seek, or for which programs, saying that is something he and other members of Congress are studying.

      U.S. BMD programs include the Airborne Laser (ABL) by The Boeing Co. [BA], which can fry systems in an enemy missile shortly after it lifts off; Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT], which makes the Aegis radar and weapons control system for hitting enemy missiles in mid-flight; and Raytheon Co. [RTN], which makes missiles that perform the actual work of intercepting enemy weapons.

      His comments came after North Korea, on July 4, fired a series of ballistic missiles, including one long-range missile that failed in its first stage.

      Some estimate the missile, had it not failed, would have landed near Hawaii, while others said it might have had a range sufficient to reach the West Coast.

      Despite the missile failure, that is a chilling reality, and one requiring a high-speed counter-response by the United States to develop improved BMD capabilities, Hunter said, “to accelerate the capability to intercept” any enemy missile approaching an American city.

      The HASC chairman said he and others will examine whether there are “any selected [BMD program] accelerations that we can put into” a pending defense money bill now in a House- Senate conference.

      “I’m going to be looking [to] accelerate development of interceptors,” Hunter said at a news conference in the Capitol.

      Asked whether he will be successful in fattening funding for the anti-missile efforts, Hunter said, “I think we can come up with the money.”

      The Republican chairman served notice that any Democrats opposing financial support for the programs will be assailed as endangering the United States.

      “It is appropriate to defend all the American cities,” Hunter said.

      He excoriated Democrats who attempted to halve funding for missile defense programs.

      Rather than countenance a recent abortive attempt to slash $4.7 billion, which is almost half of the $10-billion-plus ballistic missile defense funding in a defense authorization measure, financial support for BMD programs should be increased, according to Hunter.

      Increased outlays are critical, so as to accelerate development of ballistic missile defense capabilities, Hunter said, adding that at present the United States has but “limited” BMD powers.

      He lauded the sea-based BMD system, pairing the Lockheed Aegis weapon control and radar with the Raytheon anti-missile missile, noting it has scored six kills in seven attempts.

      As for land-based systems, there have been just two successes out of five attempts, with a hope that a test in the fall will yield another hit, he said.

      Even though the United States currently doesn’t possess a fully competent and operational BMD layered missile shield, one thing is certain, Hunter said: some capability is better than none.

      Had President Bush failed to pull the United States out of the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2001, the nation now would be five years behind its current level of BMD proficiency, however rudimentary that might be, Hunter said.

      Similarly, just think how defenseless the United States would be if it hadn’t begun working on a multi-layered anti-ballistic missile system years ago, said John W. Douglass, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, which has many member companies active in BMD programs.

      Douglass decried those who oppose funding missile defense, saying the actions of North Korea show just how urgently the United States needs a shield against such weapons.

      While today North Korea may have failed in its attempt to fire a long-range missile, Douglass’s view is that one must maintain a longer-range view.

      Even some critics who scoff at the North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile capability as it exists today concede that the rogue regime may well continue its development program and produce such a long-range delivery system.

      North Korea already states openly that it has produced nuclear weapons.

      Douglass said it isn’t intelligent for the United States to slow BMD programs now because of the current North Korean launch failure, because one must have BMD development today if one is to be able to counter enemy threats of the future.

      He made his comments in a media briefing, and in a recent letter to the Wall Street Journal.

      He assailed the newspaper for a news story that found many long-running military procurement programs are continued because they have political supporters in Congress.

      “While it may be true that defense-funding priorities haven’t shifted substantially, it isn’t because military budgets are shaped by pork and pet projects,” Douglass argued. “The past two decades have been a stark reminder that it is all but impossible to predict military needs five or 10 years into the future. Policy makers have simply chosen to ensure our military is ready for all types of future threats rather than myopically put all our resources in one or two risk areas.”

      BMD programs are a prime example of this fact, Douglass continued.

      “The missile-defense program cited in the article is a perfect example of the phenomenon,” Douglass asserted. “Some argued that the end of the Cold War made defense against ballistic missiles unnecessary.

      “But continued investment in the program ensured progress while a new threat developed: North Korean long-range ballistic missiles. I’m sure today many people are relieved that missile defense didn’t wind up in the post-Cold War scrap heap.”

      BMD first was proposed by then-President Reagan in the 1980s, when the initiative was derided by critics as “Star Wars,” a reference to a science fiction movie. Funding was slowed in the last decade after the Soviet Union had collapsed and the Cold War ended.

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