The Ongoing Struggle for Adequate Missile Defense

Marion Edwyn Harrison

10/18/2007 10:28:45 AM - Marion Edwyn Harrison

Writing as an empirical observer over a number of years and disclaiming expertise, this commentator continues to manifest concern as to the rather patently obvious Congressional, and occasionally Administration, limited interest in missile defense generally, offshore missile defense more particularly.

The latest, but undoubtedly not the last, such manifestation appears in H.R. 3222, now pending in a conference committee between the United States Senate and House of Representatives, the Department of Defense (“DOD”) Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (“Act”). An important threshold point raises its untimely head: The 2008 Fiscal Year runs from October 1, 2007 through September 30, 2008. Congress obviously should have legislated the Act and sent it to the President for signature well before October 1. However, repeatedly over the years, regardless of which political party has a Congressional majority, Congress, unlike a successful private business, cannot get its act together so as to appropriate on a timely basis.

So much for Congressional ineptitude as to timing. The Act, which would appropriate $459.3 billion, contains a number of items as to which the George W. Bush Administration (which pragmatically means the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget) considers the funding inadequate, excessive and/or misplaced. In this brief Commentary we look at only two, both relating to missile defense.

The Act would reduce money available for missile defense. More specifically, the Act would shave $ 85 million off the appropriation for United States missile defenses in Europe, particularly for construction at what is referred to as the European Third Site, as though there were no threat of a guided missile launched by Iran against the United States.

The Senate version of the Act would appropriate $75 million for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) and unmanned aircraft for domestic border security, including $20 million to boost the production rate of the SM-3 interceptor to four per month and another $45 million long-lead production of an additional 15 SM-3s. The remaining $10 million could go to the Aegis Signal Processor and Open Architecture software. Probably unwisely, money would come from another section of the defense budget but perhaps it reflects a (somewhat limited) interest in defense against missiles and offshore missiles.

Conversely, the Bush Administration opposes some major additions to United States Navy shipbuilding, including the construction of a $ 470 million so-called Virginia Class submarine (the latest in submarine evolution). Among various tactics for improving the strategy of defense against offshore missiles, an adequacy of submarines seems too obvious to debate. The Administration opposition to this $ 470 billion item appears to be based upon the contention that the money more meaningfully could be used elsewhere. That argument generically varies from validity to diversion. In this case it appears very much to be diversion.

The Act, of course, is immensely complicated. It implicates not only missile defense but also transfer authority within the Military Establishment, major reductions in appropriations sought for dozens of military functions and for nonmilitary activities (training of allies, humanitarian aid, drug interdiction, defense intelligence, so forth). Suffice it to say, in this brief Commentary, that missile defense generally, and offshore missile defense more specifically, are key stratagems for our national self-defense in this age of easy global terrorist access. They should be treated as such.