Thursday, August 06, 2009

Another Bull's-Eye For Missile Defense


By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Wednesday, August 05, 2009 4:20 PM PT

SDI: If you missed the news, which isn't hard given how poorly these things are covered, our "unproven" missile defense proved itself again last week, when a U.S. warship downed a simulated North Korean missile in flight.

Read More: Military & Defense

The test, conducted in Hawaiian waters by the Navy and the Department of Defense's Missile Defense Agency (MDA), was the 23rd firing by ships equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system. It was the 19th success, including the shoot-down of a dead U.S. spy satellite last year.

A short-range ballistic missile simulating a missile like North Korea's Nodongs or Scuds was fired from the Pacific Missile Test Range on the island of Kauai. In position to intercept was the Aegis destroyer Hopper, which fired a Standard Missile-3 to shoot it down about 100 miles above the Pacific in an exercise dubbed "Stellar Avenger."

As part of the exercise, the destroyer O'Kane simulated an engagement and the cruiser Lake Erie detected and tracked the target missile. An MDA statement said the Hopper then directed its interceptor to a "direct body to body hit, approximately two minutes after leaving the ship."

In February 2008, it helped Lake Erie using an SM-3 succeed in shooting down the National Reconnaissance Office's NROL-21 Radarsat, weighing 2.5 tons, before it could strike the earth with its deadly hydrazine fuel tank nearly full.

Aegis was conceived as part of a layered missile defense capable of intercepting a missile at all stages of flight — the boost or launch phase, in-flight and as its warhead descends toward its intended American target, whether it be a city or a military installation.

The big kahunas of missile defense are the ground-based interceptors based at Ft. Greely in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. According to the MDA, since 2001 there have been 37 successful hit-to-kill intercepts out of 47 attempts, an astounding 80% success rate.

Despite these successes and the rising threats from both North Korea and Iran, missile defense took a $1.4 billion hit in the Gates/Obama FY2010 budget, a decrease of about 15%. Several promising programs such as the airborne laser were put on the shelf. The number of ground-based interceptors at 30 is down from an intended 44.

After the proven success of both sea-based and land-based missile defense, former MDA Chief Gen. Trey Obering III said: "Our testing has shown not only can we hit a bullet with a bullet, we can hit a spot on a bullet with a bullet."

As North Korea improves its Taepodong 2 intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of reaching targets in Alaska and Hawaii, and as intelligence sources say Iran could put a nuclear bomb atop one of its Shahabs within a year, these systems will prove useful.

Also useful would've been a program stopped dead in the administration's budget cuts: the airborne laser program or ABL. It consists of a modified Boeing 747-400F equipped with a megawatt-class, high-energy Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser designed to destroy ballistic missiles in their very vulnerable boost phase.

According to the MDA, the ABL provides a unique capability "to detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles shortly after launch during the boost-phase. Its revolutionary use of directed energy makes it unique among the United States airborne weapons systems, with a potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light with a range of several hundred kilometers."

It could be deployed on short notice anywhere in the world, whether it be patrolling off the Korean Peninsula or flying over the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. And it had one advantage over its cousins — it was reusable.

Instead of completing President Reagan's dream of a layered missile defense, we appear ready to barter pieces of it away, particularly ground-based interceptors and tracking radar sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in exchange for vague promises of Russian cooperation on Iran.

As the Iranian countdown begins, we will need more arrows in our quiver, not more quiver in our arrows.

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