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Cruise Missile Threat Soaring, So U.S. Urgently Needs Cruise Missile Defense

By | July 16, 2007

      The United States must erect — quickly — an anti-missile shield against enemy cruise missiles as a complementary accompaniment to the much larger emergent ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield.

      So said leading experts at a Capitol Hill forum organized by the American Foreign Policy Council, a Washington think tank focused on foreign policy.

      A single integrating authority should handle the entire U.S. response to the cruise missile threat, according to David A. Kier, vice president and managing director for missile defense with Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT]. Lockheed makes missile defense wares, such as the Aegis weapons control/radar system and the beam control/fire control on the Airborne Laser BMD system.

      A logical place to vest that responsibility for developing cruise missile defenses would be the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which now is developing the multi-layered shield against ballistic missiles. MDA is part of the Department of Defense (DOD).

      However, the experts didn’t express an opinion as to whether DOD or the Department of Homeland Security eventually should operate the cruise missile defense system, once it is developed.

      Whichever agency leads the cruise missile shield development, it is critical that Congress should fully fund the entire needs of the program, rather than expecting the developer such as MDA to scavenge funds from existing programs, the analysts said.

      Space & Missile Defense Report asked how it could be likely that Congress would provide substantial increased funds for the envisioned cruise missile shield development, when Congress already is cutting and failing to fund fully some existing MDA BMD programs.

      “It would be wrong for Congress to do this,” without providing MDA with adequate funds, because such a move “short-changes programs there now,” said Jeff Kueter, president of the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington think tank focusing in part on defense issues.

      “I don’t believe Congress would give them the mission without funding,” Kueter added.

      He and Kier provided an array of observations:

      • Cruise missile technology, the number of missiles deployed and the number of nations wielding them all are rising, rapidly.

      • Not only rogue nations, but terrorist groups as well, will wield increasing numbers of cruise missiles.

      • The threat will worsen steadily over the next decade.

      • A cruise missile tipped with a nuclear or other mass-destruction weapon could be fired from a cargo container on a commercial ship well out to sea as it approaches port in a large U.S. city.

      • It isn’t a matter of if this will happen, but merely when it will occur.

      • And, since this may occur soon, there is no time to dither in erecting a shield against cruise missiles.

      • One system already developed would work well against cruise missiles: the Patriot air defense system, The program involves contractors such as Raytheon Co. [RTN] and Lockheed.

      • An initial cruise missile shield might be created to protect an area stretching from Washington, D.C., to Boston, and Los Angeles to San Francisco.

      • The analysts concede that such a regionally limited protective area might merely spur terrorists or rogue states to switch a planned attack to other cities, such as Miami.

      • That fact only underlines the need to provide a full defense for the homeland. A decision would have to be made whether to extend the cruise missile defense system to guard against enemy missiles launched by terrorists from hiding places in Canada or Mexico.

      Kueter recently co-authored with research analyst Howard Kleinberg a paper published by the Marshall Institute entitled The Cruise Missile Challenge: Designing a Defense Against Asymmetric Threats that can be read in entirety at on the Web.

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