As President Trump recovers from the coronavirus, all Americans should wish him a speedy recovery and a quick return to the campaign trail. Hopefully, both campaigns can get back on track and focus on the policy differences which matter most to voters.
The next debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled for October 15th. As a part of the town hall format, both candidates should be asked to answer questions about national defense policy and investments in future military technology. President Trump has established a solid record of supporting the military, but an honest campaign requires each candidate explain their position on defense spending, with a focus on missile defense. Missile defense is technology developed to protect America from an intercontinental missile attack and a valuable long-term investment in our national security.
There are, of course, many levels of missile defense. Out of those different systems, one stands out. It is especially critical to focus the debate on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program because it is the last line of defense. It is already deployed and operational but needs to be upgraded to response to future threats. It is important to know how each candidate plans to support the program and to what level they expect to enhance GMD during their terms in office.
This is a program which is so important and vital to our ability to protect our nation it ought to be the focus of a long policy discussion and debate. “GMD employs integrated communications networks, fire control systems, globally deployed sensors, and Ground-based Interceptors (GBIs) that are capable of detecting, tracking and destroying ballistic missile threats,” The Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance explains. “The Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) is a sensor/ propulsion package that uses the kinetic energy from a direct hit to destroy the incoming target vehicle.” These are complex and important issues both candidates need to take the time to explain in detail to the American people.
Missile defense is also a point of contention because President Trump has been a strong supporter of the program while the Obama-Biden administration was less steadfast in their backing. President Trump needs to provide more detail on his plans to dedicate additional resources to update the GMD program and Biden ought to explain where on where missile defense fits into his national security plans and priorities.
The Bush administration noted at the time of its launch “A number of [rogue] states are acquiring increasingly longer-range ballistic missiles as instruments of blackmail and coercion against the United States and its friends and allies. The United States must defend its homeland, its forces and its friends and allies against these threats.”
Today, even as we handle a global pandemic, the United States remains vulnerable to nuclear attack. There will be much debate on how quick the U.S. will develop a coronavirus vaccine and the fact that over 200,000 Americans have died from the virus, yet will there be any discussion of a potential threat which can target millions of Americans in a single strike? “A single North Korean nuclear warhead, delivered against a major American city, could kill more people than all the deaths in the nation’s wars since 1776,” notes defense expert Loren Thompson in Forbes. “A handful of nuclear warheads delivered against several cities could collapse the national economy.”
As key technology, the system is always being improved – one particular area of focus is the improvement of a more lethal “kill vehicle” which destroys the incoming hostile missiles. As analyst Mark Anthony wrote, contractor Raytheon was contracted to build a redesigned kill vehicle (RKV) but could not meet the specifications. The GMD system is currently adequate with the existing EKV, the U.S. needs to develop the next wave of technology and improve the GMD system. Candidates need to answer where do they stand on fully funding a new RKV designed and manufactured by a different contractor.
Now is the time where the presidential contenders need to make their own commitments. A discussion of missile defense policy should be on the list of topics at the scheduled next presidentialdebate. The country deserves to know its next leader will commit to continue to protect us.