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Obering Says Funding For Missile Defense Shouldn’t Be Cut

By | April 2, 2007

      The United States urgently requires continued stout backing for a multi-layered ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield, Lt. Gen, Henry “Trey” Obering III, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director, said.

      “Now is not the time to cut back on support for missile defense,” Obering said before the House Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee.

      His comments came after Democrats in January took control of Congress following the election last November, including some key lawmakers such as Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who have questioned the effectiveness and affordability of BMD systems.

      But many recent BMD tests have gone well.

      “Missile defense had a very good year testing,” Charles McQueary, Pentagon director of operational test and evaluation (OT&E), told the subcommittee.

      The ballistic missile defense system has demonstrated a limited capability against certain threats, McQueary said.

      He added he is satisfied that MDA is responding well to points raised in a recent report.

      Subcommittee lawmakers had varying views on development of the BMD system.

      Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), chairing the subcommittee, said there long has been bipartisan support for a BMD system.

      “The protection of our nation and credibility of our last line of defense against a missile strike is not a political issue,” she said. At the same time, she criticized the Bush administration for attempting to rush deployment of BMD systems.

      “We want a system” of defense against incoming enemy ballistic missiles, “but we want a system to work,” she said.

      Therefore, she continued, “My colleagues and I will insist that missile defenses are adequately tested before they are deployed.”

      Some backers of BMD systems have asserted that demands for exhaustive, final testing of BMD systems before they are built and deployed are merely subtle moves to kill creation of a BMD shield.

      Tauscher noted that the Government Accountability Office stated last year that there have been “too few flight tests conducted to anchor the models and simulations that predict overall systems performance.”

      She also criticized Bush administration moves to establish a Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD) installation in the Czech Republic and Poland, asserting that this move “has not been sufficiently coordinated with NATO.” The European GMD would protect Europe and U.S. troops there from attack by missiles launched from the Middle East, especially from Iran.

      However, Brian Green, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategic capabilities, noted that gaining NATO backing for an initiative would require unanimity in NATO, and that could be difficult to attain. But that said, there is widespread support in NATO, Green said, adding that “we certainly have a strong NATO foundation” for a European BMD system.

      Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), said the salient point here should be what is in the best interests of the United States, without becoming overly concerned as to just what role NATO might play.

      Tauscher also wondered whether a mobile missile defense system would be better than the fixed-installation silos of the GMD system, such as those now sited in Alaska and California.

      But the top-ranked Republican on the subcommittee said a broad-ranging BMD shield is needed, now, as missile threats proliferate.

      Rep. Terry Everett of Alabama, ranking Republican on the subcommittee, pointed out the growing danger.

      He cited North Korea testing missiles in July and detonating a nuclear weapon three months later.

      And Iran, he noted, is developing and testing short- and medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and Europe. “This includes a space launch vehicle that could provide a cover for developing longer-range missiles,” he noted.

      Meanwhile, Iran continues producing nuclear materials in defiance of views of many Western nations, and the United Nations.

      And China, he noted, destroyed one of its own satellites with a medium-range ballistic missile.

      “The threat is clearly at hand,” Everett said.

      He voiced concern that the MDA budget request for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, at $8.9 billion, is less than the prior budget and represents a cut of $500 million from the MDA fiscal 2008 request.

      Obering said a blend of systems is critical, including land-based systems in silos.

      Asked about the Airborne Laser (ABL), Obering praised it. The ABL program “has come a tremendous long way,” though it isn’t a completely developed system, he said. “We are not out of the woods yet,” he said. The ABL involves a highly modified 747 aircraft by The Boeing Co. [BA], the contractor, with a laser system by Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] and a beam control/fire control unit by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT].

      That laser in the sky would destroy an enemy missile as it launched, before it would have time to deploy multiple warheads or confusing chaff, while frying the enemy missile electronics.

      Obering also sees progress on the rival BMD program to attack enemy missiles shortly after launch. That is the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), by Northrop, Raytheon Co. [RTN], Orbital and ATK.

      Obering said only one of the systems, ABL or KEI, will be chosen to hit enemy missiles in their boost phase shortly after launching, and added that he hasn’t redefined the mission of KEI to another type of mission, such as hitting enemy missiles later in their trajectories. If KEI were shifted to a weapon hitting enemy missiles in their midcourse, then KEI would be a reduced program, he said.

      Separately, a group advocating creation of the BMD shield noted that the $8.849 billion that MDA requests for fiscal 2008 is only “a little over 1.3 percent of the total Department of Defense budget request.” This outlay to both block incoming enemy missiles and to dissuade enemy nations from even attempting such an attack is, according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, “money well spent.”

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