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General Says Tests, Studies Could Delay European Missile Defense

By | May 21, 2007

      Funds Cuts Could Delay ABL For Years

      If Congress mandates elaborate testing and studies of a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system before it is deployed, that could delay formation of a European missile defense capability to counter any hostile missiles fired by Iran.

      That was the assessment of Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell, commander of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, speaking before a breakfast meeting of the National Defense University Foundation at the Capitol Hill Club.

      He also said there is a need for more Patriot anti-missile assets, Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) units, and more ground based interceptors.

      “If we continue to delay going into Europe” until after extensive testing, “we may end up with more of a problem with Iran than we have today,” Campbell warned. And that problem “could be overwhelming.”

      Separately, concerns have been raised that the same House-passed BMD program cuts also would force a delay of up to three years in the Airborne Laser (ABL) development, from a planned initial shoot-down of a target missile in 2009 to a capability demonstration in 2012.

      Even a one-year cut or elimination of funds for ABL could mean several years of delays, because the Missile Defense Agency, its contractors (The Boeing Co. [BA], Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] and Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT]) and subcontractors would need extensive time to recover from the money gap. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 30, 2007, page 1.)

      “I don’t see [Iran] slowing down” its development of missile capabilities “unless we can devalue those assets” with a viable European BMD system, Campbell said.

      He rejected complaints by some that BMD systems testing thus far has been unrealistic.

      Campbell noted that substantial testing already has been performed. “We do have confidence in the system,” he said.

      Ground-based midcourse missile defense (GMD) systems currently are located at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The European system would be a third site, located in the Czech Republic (radar) and Poland (interceptor silos).

      The House Armed Services Committee cut all $160 million for preliminary steps toward the silos site in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, as part of reducing funding for various missile defense programs by a total combined $764 million.

      Skeptics, including some lawmakers, have questioned whether any nation would fire a missile against the United States, since that missile trajectory could be tracked back to its origin.

      Others, however, say rogue states aren’t first class powers such as the former Soviet Union, and add that terrorist groups that might obtain long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction may not care whether the United States responds when attacked.

      “There is a real threat out there,” Campbell said.

      He opposed suggestions that developing missile defense programs be shifted from flexible research and development funding to regular budget procedures with rigid rules.

      Had that been the case years ago, missile defense efforts today would be little more than PowerPoint presentations, rather than hardware in place to intercept enemy missiles, he said.

      While MDA is supposed to be a developmental agency rather than an operational force, combatant commanders ask what it would cost their budgets to operate BMD systems if they are transferred to those commands. Campbell also observed that any enemy missile might, in its trajectory, pass over several U.S. combatant command areas. Therefore, he said, “you need a global commander” of BMD systems.

      It also is critical that the European BMD system have open architecture, so that it can inter-operate with future European Union systems defending against short- and medium- range enemy missiles, he said.

      While some lawmakers oppose placing BMD missile interceptors in space, Campbell said that the concept “should be examined,” while stopping short of urging deployment of space- based interceptors.

      He also urged netting together BMD sensor systems into a cohesive unity.

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