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Missile Defense, Other Programs Needed To Counter New Threats

By | July 16, 2007

      The United States government must face up to burgeoning 21st century threats, meaning that Washington must support missile defense programs, thus countering missile and nuclear programs of North Korea, China and Iran, according to Anthony H. Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

      These are the challenges that the United States must confront and overcome, he stated.

      But he expressed concern that simultaneously the Department of Defense already is committed to acquiring costly weapons systems, programs begun years or decades ago that aren’t focused precisely on countering those new threats.

      Cordesman questions whether those weapons platforms still are required.

      Those major weapons procurement programs, with costs already skyrocketing, will require vastly more funds in the out years than projected in President Bush’s budget for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, Cordesman warned.

      Among many systems being procured, he questioned rising costs on some space-oriented programs:

      • The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (lifters) by The Boeing Co. [BA] and Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT]. Initially seen at 181 vehicles for $15.9 billion, the EELV now is estimated at 138 vehicles for $28.6 billion.

      • The Space Based Infrared System High (SBIRS High) was to get five satellites for $4.2 billion from Lockheed, but now it would appear it will be three satellites for $10.5 billion.

      • He also cites the Aegis weapons control system by Lockheed for being 95 percent over budget.

      Defense Is Affordable

      To be sure, the nation can afford an adequate national defense: even after hundreds of billions of dollars spent on wars, the U.S. economy isn’t straining to cover military outlays, and could cover even greater costs, he noted, because defense spending amounts to a minor portion of total U.S. economic output.

      According to Cordesman, “The only practical answer may be still further major increases in real [inflation-adjusted] defense spending — perhaps on the order of [1 percent to 2 percent] of GNP, or massive delays and cutbacks in key procurement programs.” He said that “such increases are affordable” in relationship to the size of the economy and the size of the federal budget.

      Such choices will have to be made soon, he indicated, predicting that whoever is elected to succeed President Bush at the White House, there lurks defense “underfunding that will confront the next administration with a major crisis in virtually every area of force transformation,” or weapons procurement.

      Cordesman sees unnecessarily high defense spending in some areas, pointing to soaring costs on many major weapons acquisition programs, terming them “legacy problems.” He notes a large collection of big-ticket procurement programs has doubled in total price to $1.5 trillion, from $750 billion.

      And the problem is larger, and worse, than just these programs. The budget plan assumes an end to the war in Iraq, which has cost about $100 billion or so annually in many years, and also low-balls estimates of military personnel costs, and expenses for repairing equipment damaged or worn in the wars. Worse, many defense procurement programs will see their peak financing needs just as retiring baby boomers are posing huge new burdens on Social Security and other federal programs aiding the aged, domestic programs that will compete with defense spending for limited dollars.

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