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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
When there’s an act of war, people naturally start to ask questions: Why wasn’t our government prepared to handle that threat? After Pearl Harbor, for example, the Army and Navy removed commanders who should have had their post on alert, but didn’t.
However, preparedness gets less press coverage than the failure to prepare.
Because of work begun by President Ronald Reagan decades ago, the United States has been well prepared for the possibility of a missile attack. His Strategic Defense Initiative was expensive, but far less expensive than seeing an American city destroyed by an enemy missile. And it has worked brilliantly: although more and more nations have developed ICBMs since Reagan’s day, none have dared attack our homeland. That is, at least in part, because those nations know such an attack could be thwarted by our defense screen.
Of course, we haven’t always kept our eyes on the ball.
In the 1990s, budget cuts threatened the missile defense program. In 1998, Congress formed the Rumsfeld Commission to take a fresh look at the threats from ballistic missiles. The commission recommended: preparedness. Lawmakers listened.
“The National Missile Defense Act of 1999 defined the mission for the BMDO, while the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002 lessened the restrictions to develop and test these technologies,” the Defense Department’s missile defense Web site explains.
Today, we’re at another inflection point. Even as the country is dealing with an expensive threat from coronavirus, there are other threats on the horizon.
Iran is working to develop offensive weapons. North Korea is testing missiles. Pakistan has nuclear technology. Even China or Russia could decide to take advantage of us, if the United States lets its guard down. That’s why the Trump Administration must fight to maintain a robust defense screen. Especially the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. It successfully unites defensive missiles with tracking radar based on Navy ships with information from Air Force computing systems.
GMD is an effective line of defense against missile attack. It has succeeded in testing as recently as three years ago. There are already 44 defensive sites in operation, and more to come. “As the U.S. is expanding the capacity of [ground-based interceptors] to 64, the need to deliver a reliable and effective kill vehicle becomes even more necessary,” a House staffer told Arms Control Today last year.
And that remains a problem. Mike Griffin, the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, cancelled the Redesigned Kill Vehicle program last year. The MDA is now looking for a Next Generation Interceptor.
That’s why, when it takes up the National Defense Authorization Act later this year, Congress needs to support the program.
When deterrence and diplomacy fail, it’s good to know our military has a system that can shoot incoming weapons down before they ready our homeland. GMD targets missiles when they are still moving fairly slowly in space, rather than trying to stop them when they are plunging back toward Earth.
The Pentagon is already doing what it can. Late last year, “Boeing was awarded a $265.2 million contract modification for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense anti-ballistic missile system,” UPI reported. “The modification increases the total value of the contract to $11.2 billion from a previous value of $10.9 billion.” Compared with other defense spending, that’s almost nothing.
Now it is up to the administration and lawmakers to recognize the importance of GMD.
Preparedness can seem expensive. But it’s much more affordable than being caught unprepared. Let’s press forward with GMD, so we’ll be ready if we ever need to fend off an attack.