A Shrinking Defense Budget Imperils Missile Defense

Amid continued defense budget cuts,estimated to cut $75 billion from DOD’s bottom line over the next two years, and escalating tensions throughout the world, the Obama administration must reassess its overall commitment to fulfilling the strategic requirements necessary to secure America’s homeland and its interests abroad. 

Together, the elimination of a fleet of Air Force fighter planes and the reduction of Army end strength to levels unseen since prior to World War II risk compromising the defense of the homeland in the event of major war. 

While much attention has been given to the overall decrease in the Pentagon’s budget, it is the specific decrease in funding toward missile defense programs that is particularly troubling. Funding toward missile defense was dropped to $8.5 billion from funding of $9.5 billion in FY 2014, continuing a downward trend that has become a hallmark of the Obama administration.  

The Obama administration sharply reduced funding for missile defense programs beginning with its budget request of FY 2010, dropping funding to $7.8 billion from FY 2009 appropriations of $9.3 billion.

The decreased commitment toward missile defense could not come at a worse time. The Obama administration’s naiveté in attempting to “reset” relations with Russia, accented by his abandonment of previously negotiated missile defense agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to place interceptor and radar installations in Europe, has only been affirmed by Vladimir Putin’s recent provocations in Ukraine and Crimea. 

The expansionist Putin, emboldened by the emasculated foreign policy of the Obama administration, remains an unpredictable adversary whose defiance in the face of American protestations only increases the likelihood that other less stable regimes will also test American resolve. At a time of increasing global volatility, the United States should be enhancing its defense posture instead of undermining it.

A comprehensive and layered missile defense program is the surest way of protecting the United States from the threat of hostile missile attacks at home or abroad. In addition to Russia, an unpredictable and bellicose North Korea – the diplomatic overtures of Dennis Rodman notwithstanding – remains an evolving threat to the U.S. homeland and Korean peninsula. 

North Korea’s development of the KN-08 road-mobile, intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM), theoretically capable of reaching targets inclusive of the western United States, has prompted leading defense and intelligence officials to voice concern. 

Last year, Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear stated, “From a military planning perspective, when I see KN-08 road-mobile missiles that appear in a North Korean military parade, I am bound to take that serious, both for not only the peninsula, but also the region, as well as my own homeland, should we speculate that those missiles potentially have the technology to reach out.”

More recently, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reported to the Senate that while North Korea has yet to test the KN-08 it appeared to have “already taken initial steps” to deploy the ICBM. 

Of course, North Korea and Russia do not remain the United States’ only concerns. Iran and U.S. officials appear worlds apart in their respective interpretations of a recently negotiated agreement concerning Iran’s nuclear development program, a program that increasingly threatens the safety of America’s forward-deployed troops throughout the Middle East. Meanwhile, Iran continues to develop ICBMs, which may be capable of reaching the United States. Such missiles could be deployed by 2015.

Fortunately, technological advancements in the field of missile defense render these and other threats of less existential danger, assuming of course that such technologies are adequately developed, procured, and deployed. 

The United States maintains an arsenal of missile defense assets capable of neutralizing a wide range of ballistic missile threats. A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, designed to intercept ballistic missiles in their final, or terminal, stage of deployment, has most recently been deployed to Guam as a hedge in protecting the region from the provocations of North Korea. 

U.S. naval warships equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system serve as mobile deterrents to counter the threat of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in their post-boost phase and the United States currently maintains 26 Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska along with 4 others at Vandenberg AFB in California. GMD installations serve to intercept hostile ballistic missile threats while still in space. 

Of course, these programs all rely upon complimentary components in order to function as a whole. Aegis equipped naval ships require an adequate supply of anti-ballistic missiles, such as the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3), in order to intercept hostile ballistic missiles. All missile defense systems require the acquisition and tracking capabilities provided by radar installations such as the Sea Based X-band radar (SBX), a massive ocean-deployed radar currently monitoring activity around North Korea, and the AN/TPY-2, which serves as a mobile high-resolution X-band radar. 

These varied systems each offer unique protection against the sophisticated and evolving threats facing the United States and should be sourced in appropriate measure to their need. For instance, demand from military leaders prompted the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Army to look into purchasing additional THAAD batteries last year. And while the United States currently fields 12 AN/TPY-2 radars, that is far short of the 18 originally budgeted by the MDA. Retired U.S. Lt. General Edward Anderson III has lamented the lack of AN/TPY-2’s as “too few given the range of threats we face.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has acknowledged the “difficult choices” that were necessary to dramatically cut the Pentagon’s budget. Trimming the size of active duty Army personnel was the big story from the budget rollout and carries with it its own inherent dangers.

But an equal danger resides in inadequately funding the tools required both to wage war as well as to forestall it. A robust missile defense apparatus, strategically designed to counter both national and regional threats, will go far toward preventing the advent of future hostilities. Even faced with “difficult choices,” missile defense is well worth the investment.

Article originally appeared at Real Clear Defense