Don’t blame Moscow

On July 12, the US State Department released a major annual report on arms control compliance that has riled up nuclear weapons hawks. In its annual “Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” the Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance assessed whether numerous countries complied with treaty obligations in 2012. Most of the media attention, though, has been on what the report says (and doesn’t say) about Russia. Since the report came out, Republican members of Congress and their supporters have repeatedly accused Moscow of violating arms control treaties, and the State Department of ignoring the problem.

The Pentagon’s 2013 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat Assessment: Why There’s No Need to Panic

The National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s (NASIC) 2013 “Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat” assessment, issued on July 11, is likely to cause some consternation within the US national security community. While the press has focused primarily on the Pentagon’s assertions about the Chinese nuclear program (according to the report, China “has the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world,” and the number of its warheads capable of reaching the US could grow to “well over 100 within the next 15 years”), the report also contains a few ominous-sounding claims about North Korean and Iranian missile capabilities.

Another GMD Intercept Test Failure

As you may have heard, a July 5 flight intercept test of the ground based midcourse defense (GMD) system failed to hit its target. The Missile Defense Agency has yet to announce what caused the miss. The failed test has apparently not shaken the Penta…

Summary of House Floor Amendments to the FY 2014 NDAA

Over at the Chain Reaction, our dear leader John Isaacs has compiled a very handy summary of the amendments offered to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was considered on the House floor last Thursday and Friday. Below is an excerpt from John’s blog highlighting the nuclear weapons and missile defense amendments. For our review of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) version of the bill, see here.

Jersey Shore 2.0: An East Coast Missile-Defense Site

The House Armed Services Committee will write its version of the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) tomorrow. For those of you keeping score at home, here’s what we know so far: The bill completely ignores sequestration, includes nearly half a billion dollars for nuclear weapons and missile defense programs the Pentagon did not ask for, and blocks funding to implement the New START treaty.

Expect Republicans to offer more amendments along these lines – and Democrats to counter, at tomorrow’s full Committee mark. Nearly all of the amendments offered and debated will rise or fall on party line votes.

The biggest attention grabber will be the debate over building a third US national missile defense site on the East Coast. HASC Chairman Buck McKeon’s (R-CA) mark of the NDAA includes an additional $247 million for the ground based midcourse defense system above the budget request. Apparently Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) will offer an amendment(s?) during the full Committee mark that allows some (or all?) of this money to be used to fund an East Coast site.  

For more on the folly of the East Coast gambit, you can read my take published in Time today. Here’s an excerpt:

Rushing to build a national missile defense site on the East Coast was a bad idea last year. It remains a bad idea now.

At a recent congressional hearing, Vice Admiral James Syring, the head of the Pentagon agency responsible for missile defense, was asked point-blank if Republican proposals to add $250 million for an East Coast site this year would be of use. “Not at this time,” he responded. The Pentagon has just begun studies on the idea, which will take two or three years to complete.

This is not just a case of “buy before you fly.” Rather, it’s a case of “buy before you study before you fly.”

Former Senator Kyl – At It Again

Former Senator Jon Kyl recently penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that made some questionable claims about US missile defense and broader nuclear policy. On our website today, Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and Kingston Reif have published a response po…

The Missile Defense Announcement

On Friday afternoon, March 15, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made a major announcement about US missile defense policy. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Winnefeld took questions from reporters after Hagel’s opening remarks. According to Hagel, the Pentagon plans to implement the following steps to improve the defense of the US homeland against a limited ballistic missile attack:

  • Deploy 14 additional ground based interceptors (GBIs) at Fort Greely, Alaska. This will increase the number of deployed GBIs from the 30 that are currently deployed to 44. Undersecretary Miller stated that the additional interceptors are scheduled to be deployed by 2017, at an estimated cost of just under $1 billion. The interceptors will contain a newer kill vehicle, known as the Capability Enhancement (CE) – II, which has not yet had a successful flight intercept test. Miller said that their deployment will not begin until the CE-II has been successfully tested.
  • Deploy an additional radar to Japan to improve early warning and tracking of any missile launched from North Korea at the United States or Japan.  
  • At the direction of Congress, conduct Environmental Impact Studies for a potential additional GBI site in the United States.
  • Cancel the fourth phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). The idea behind this phase was to provide additional protection to the US homeland – not Europe – by deploying an advanced version of the SM-3 missile, the SM-3 IIB, to counter long-range missiles launched from Iran. Deployment of the SM-3 IIB had been delayed until 2022 at the earliest. The administration plans to move forward with the first three phases of the EPAA, including a site in Poland, to provide protection of Europe.

Below are a few initial comments on the announcement:

Cancelling Phase IV of the EPPA, by far the biggest announcement of the day, was the right decision. Phase IV was never more than a paper system.   A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified a number of technical and operational problems with the proposed interceptor. A National Academy of Sciences report released last year recommended that the system be cancelled because it was unlikely to be effective and because it was unnecessary for the defense of Europe. In addition, Iran does not currently possess a ballistic missile capable of hitting the US homeland and may not acquire the capability for some time, if ever.

Phase IV has been hurting U.S.-Russia relations, but for no good reason. Russia objected to the system on the grounds that it could threaten its strategic deterrent. It will be interesting to observe how Russia reacts to this decision and whether it will make Moscow more willing to discuss a further round nuclear weapons reductions.

Hagel pointed to North Korea’s third nuclear test and its development of long-range missiles as justification for expanding the ground based midcourse defense system. But the addition of 14 GBIs in Alaska is unlikely to significantly increase the defensive capability of the ground based midcourse defense system. Even though the Defense Department has invested approximately $39 billion in this system since 1996, it remains troubled. For example, the 2012 National Academy of Sciences study cited above said that the system “lacks fundamental features long known to maximize the effectiveness of a midcourse hit-to-kill defense capability against even limited threats.”  The GBIs have never been tested against a target with an ICBM range, and the CE-II, the newest version of the GBI kill vehicle, failed in its first two flight intercept tests in 2010. The system has also yet to prove effective against decoys and countermeasures that an adversary could deploy to fool our defenses.

The United States should not spend money to deploy additional GBIs until they are demonstrated to be effective and suitable in successful, operationally realistic tests. To the Pentagon’s credit, it has stated that it will not deploy the newer CE-II interceptors until they have been successfully tested, but these tests should be operationally realistic, not highly scripted as previous tests have been.

Part of the administration’s rationale for deploying more GBIs was to send a signal to South Korea that Washington is taking the North Korean threat seriously. But the addition of 14 GBIs is unlikely to strengthen the credibility of deterrence against North Korea. If US nuclear and conventional capabilities are insufficient to deter North Korea from attacking the United States or its allies with nuclear weapons, it is not clear how deploying more imperfect missile defenses would alter Pyongyang’s calculus. Moreover, if 30 GBIs could not dissuade North Korea from continuing to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, neither will 44.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the combination of deterrence and diplomacy has been and will continue to be the most effective strategy to protect the United States against nuclear weapons. As difficult and frustrating as it may be, we must continue to constructively engage North Korea and Iran to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and achieve a nuclear-weapons-free Korean peninsula.

Under Secretary Miller Confident about U.S. Missile Defense Future at Atlantic Council Conference

On Tuesday the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security hosted its annual conference on missile defense. Experts from the United States, Europe, and Asia shared their knowledge and viewpoints on the progress of U.S. and allied missile defense programs across the globe. Of particular note was the attendance of Under Secretary of Defense for U.S. Policy James Miller, who provided the opening keynote address.

“Ballistic missile defense is, without question, one of the most important national security issues we face today,” Miller declared, citing the 2009-2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review as evidence that the Obama Administration is committed to the nation’s missile defense programs. The Under Secretary listed homeland defense as the nation’s top priority, followed closely by regional defense of U.S. forces abroad and assisting allies in developing missile defense systems themselves.

On North Korea, Miller praised the recent UN Security Council sanctions as evidence of the world being “united in their condemnation of the regime’s behavior.” He especially welcomed China’s support.  Miller cited North Korea’s continuing nuclear program and heightened rhetoric as proof that the United States must continue to take decisive steps to defend against North Korean ballistic missile development. Miller likewise called for continued observation of Iran, arguing that the nation’s recent space launch indicated possession of technology needed to one day develop an ICBM.

Miller went on to outline advances being made on the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, the system responsible for defense of the U.S. homeland. He also noted an expanding hedge capability resulting from completion of Missile Field 2 and the upcoming completion of another missile field in Fort Greely, Alaska. Miller also announced that per the direction of Congress, the Department of Defense is beginning environmental impact studies exploring the possibility of additional missile fields on the east coast or interceptors in Alaska, though he clarified that this does not mean the U.S. government has decided to go forward with such efforts. “We are initiating studies at the direction of Congress in the event the threat progresses to the point where that makes sense in the future,” he stated.

Miller made it clear that U.S. policy is to prevent Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear-armed ICBMs and that the United States is capable of defending against any ballistic missile threat originating from either country. “If they develop ICBMs, they will not be able to threaten the United States. Our missile defenses will defeat them.”

Miller also emphasized ongoing bilateral efforts with allies in the Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Europe, including PAC-3 deployment in South Korea and missile defense cooperation with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and NATO members. Moving forward, the U.S. will emphasize information-sharing among allies via sensor systems. Miller confirmed that the U.S. partnership with NATO on the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) is on track for Aegis BMD 4.01 and SM-3 Block IB system deployment in 2015, and will “evolve toward full capability” in phases 3 and 4 in 2018 and 2020 respectively.

When questioned on Russia’s objection to EPAA deployment, Miller informed the audience that nothing planned poses any threat to Russia’s strategic deterrence efforts. While confident that the EPAA was fully on track for phase 3 deployment, Miller made no explicit guarantee that phase 4 would be pursued, citing budgetary concerns. “We are continuing to look very hard at (phase 4 implementation)…our ability to deploy SM3 IIB has slipped at least two years to the right of what we previously had planned.”

Miller’s confidence about the future of U.S. missile defense may be premature, however. In an article in Arms Control Today, our Senior Science Fellow Phillip Coyle, citing a recent heavyweight report by the National Academy of Sciences, highlighted the technological impracticality of Phase 4 SM3 IIB deployment in Europe. While an East Coast battery might resolve some technical concerns and diplomatic issues with Russia, it could end up costing billions more than the Obama Administration had planned. The total cost of pursuing new regional systems in the Middle East and Asia has also not yet been calculated. Further, a lack of in-house scientific expertise in the Missile Defense Agency and key industrial players raises doubt over whether necessary research can be done on the advanced space-based sensors and detection systems that are essential to an effective missile defense.