With Iran on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons and Russia wanting to re-assert itself as a world power through the Ukrainian crisis, a strong military presence in the world is more important for America than ever. A critical way the military does this is by remaining a global leader in ballistic missile technology.
The details of ballistic missile defense systems are wonky and technical, especially as the technology improves far beyond those missiles used in the defense systems proposed by conservative hero President Ronald Reagan. But now, as military weaponry becomes more sophisticated at an alarmingly fast rate, and more hostile countries acquire ballistic missile technology, the United States must stay ahead of the curve when it comes to missile defense.
But staying ahead of the curve for our defenses does not necessarily mean always supporting the most theoretical advancements, especially as our federal government struggles to rein in record deficits.
Over the past 20 years, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has invested significant resources in developing the most accurate missiles on earth, and engineers have learned a lot while fine-tuning key interceptors like the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) which can take out enemy missiles while in flight. The SM-3’s proven track record – which includes 26 successful intercepts – is why these missiles are essential to the continuing NATO effort in Europe to defend against missiles from hostile nations.
The most challenging aspect of this technology is achieving hit-to-kill capabilities with a “kill vehicle”, sometimes referred to as “hitting a bullet with a bullet.” The good news is that in this regard, the SM-3 has been very reliable. However, what should be concerning to supporters for a strong national defense is that the “exoatmospheric kill vehicle” on the only system that can defend the U.S. homeland against a long-range missile attack – the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system – has been far less dependable.
But this is no reason to turn our backs on GMD. In fact, with limited budget resources, the emphasis should be on continuing to improve these missiles’ already impressive technology, making sure they always hit the intended target with laser precision.