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Obering Says U.S. Hastens European BMD On Iranian Threat, Not Politics

By | April 9, 2007

      Iran is accelerating its missile development program, creating pressure for the United States to install and stand up a European ground-based missile defense (GMD) system swiftly, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering III, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director, said.

      But there is no political pressure from the White House to rush the European ballistic missile defense (BMD) system so it’s complete before President Bush leaves office in 2009, however, Obering said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast meeting.

      Iran has “far accelerated” its missile development and testing program, Obering said.

      MDA also is pressured to move smartly in developing and fielding global missile defense systems against a variety of missile types by the worrisome sight last year of North Korea testing missiles, and by Hezbollah launching thousands of missiles from Lebanon into Israel, he said.

      The reason that rogue states and terrorists have invested in missiles is that they work, Obering said, noting that for many years there has been no effective anti-missile system.

      “The threat is getting more and more real, and it is urgent,” Obering said.

      Obering, as he has previously, dismissed as unfounded Russian concerns that the European BMD system with just 10 interceptors would be able to block hundreds of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be tipped with any of thousands of nuclear warheads. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Jan. 29, 2007, page 1.)

      He said the full European BMD system might cost $3 billion-plus, including $1.7 billion of construction costs for the interceptors centered in Poland, with the rest for items such as radar in the Czech Republic.

      There is urgency here, since even if the program were cleared to proceed today, it would be in the next decade when the system would be operative, with Iran developing threatening missile capabilities just a couple of years later, by some estimates.

      On a broader outlook, Obering several times warned that the United States can’t be certain as to how enemy missile and nuclear weapon development programs are progressing.

      Figuring out Iran, for example, is “kind of a chess game,” he said. Iran last year tested a missile fired from a submerged submarine. And the Iranian government also flouts the combined opinion of many developed nations and the United Nations as it continues moving to produce nuclear materials.

      Obering also was asked by Space & Missile Defense Report where North Korea stands, since it tested six missiles of up to medium range (successfully) and one long-range missile (which failed just after launch) in July, and after North Korea successfully tested a nuclear weapon underground in October.

      Asked whether the United States knows whether North Korea is now preparing for further missile tests, and whether he knows if that would be in months or years, he said, “No, I wish I did” know that. North Korea, a secretive and insular regime, “is a hard target” for U.S. intelligence agencies to assess, especially in ferreting out North Korean intentions, he said.

      Obering added that it is little comfort that the long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile failed in the test last summer, because at the same time, six shorter-range missiles performed well, which is “cause for continued concern.”

      Switching to money matters, Obering commented on the $8.9 billion MDA budget request for the next fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, which is $500 million down from the prior fiscal period.

      Obering indicated he isn’t expecting any miraculous rescue here. “I don’t hear anybody [is] going to add to our top line,” he said.

      Whatever the cost of missile defense programs, Obering observed, they are a bargain when one considers that allowing just one enemy missile to hit a U.S. city would result in a stupendous, and stupendously costly, loss. For example, with no weapons of mass destruction on board, the planes that rammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, caused $83 billion in losses, he noted.

      Thus if the United States uses BMD systems to stop just one missile from striking one American city, the investment in BMD assets will have been more than worth it.

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