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Analyst Urges Placing Kinetic Energy Interceptor On Navy Ships

By | April 30, 2007

      The United States should push development of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, a military analyst said.

      Existing systems such as the Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD) system don’t work well enough to guarantee they will protect the United States against attack by long-range missiles, according to Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a think tank near the Pentagon that focuses on defense and other issues.

      “More than six years into the Bush Administration and what do we have to show for its investment of billions of dollars in missile defense?,” Goure asked rhetorically. “Precious little is the answer.”

      He criticized the GMD system.

      “To defend the nation we are relying on a waterlogged Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) site at Fort Greeley, Alaska with about a dozen interceptors [and a] few more missiles … at Vandenburg AFB in California.”

      He also dismissed another BMD system, involving Aegis weapon control and guidance systems with interceptor missiles.

      “There are a small number of Navy cruisers equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system and a number of Army PAC-3 missile batteries, neither of which can protect the homeland,” Goure asserted.

      Enter KEI.

      “To date, the Missile Defense Agency has in development only one system designed from the start free of all ABM Treaty constraints,” Goure wrote in an issue brief, and that, he stated, is KEI.

      Goure didn’t mention in his brief the competing BMD system under development, the Airborne Laser (ABL). ABL and KEI are unlike other BMD systems, in that those two programs are developing capabilities of destroying enemy missiles just after they rise from launch pads or missile silos, before the enemy missiles have a chance to eject multiple warheads or chaff.

      “KEI is an extremely powerful missile that is intended to provide an option for boost phase defense, intercepting long-range ballistic missiles in the earliest part of their flights,” Goure noted.

      “With U.S. departure from the ABM Treaty, KEI was able, uniquely, to capitalize on and incorporate previously prohibited design features: mobility, deployability and sensor cueing from space.

      “Moreover, KEI could be both land and sea-based. In the latter configuration it could operate up close to many potential threats even in peacetime, ready to respond in seconds to a hostile launch.”

      In contrast, he noted that other existing, already-developed mobile or sea-based BMD system “are short-range and therefore unsuitable for intercepting long-range offensive missiles.”

      But, Goure said, a total of some $800 million has been taken from KEI since 2005.

      Instead, the United States should provide strong backing for KEI, and increase its basing potentials, he argued.

      “One idea has been to deploy the KEI on the Navy’s new class of cruisers, the CG(X),” which is to be built in the next decade. But Goure suggests that KEI be deployed on the existing class of LPD 17 amphibious ships.

      Goure also attacked the U.S. proposal to create a third GMD site in Europe, in the Czech Republic and Poland, asserting that “such a site would have only limited utility in defending either Western Europe or the United States.”

      His comments come as some lawmakers fear Democratic leaders in Congress are poised to cut the $310 billion in the fiscal 2008 budget proposal for the European BMD site.

      (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 23, 2007, page 8.)

      In saying KEI should be based on ships, Goure noted that erstwhile allies can’t be relied upon to permit U.S. forces to use their land bases, such as Turkey refusing to provide bases to U.S. forces before the invasion of Iraq.

      Further, ships are mobile, while silos embedded in the ground aren’t, Goure noted. Ships can move as threats arise around the world.

      Instead of building the third GMD site in Europe, “KEI-equipped LPD-17s deployed in the Black and Aegean Seas would negate any long-range missile threat from Iran whether directed at the United States or Europe,” Goure argued.

      And a similar argument could be made in Asian waters near China and North Korea, he assered.

      “The same capability in the Sea of Japan could defend not only that country but the western U.S. too,” Goure stated.

      “If shorter-range defensive missiles such as the Aegis BMDS or the Army’s theater missile defense system, THAAD, were deployed on the LPD-17, such a vessel could also be deployed to defend our friends in the Persian Gulf from short-range Iranian ballistic missiles.”

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