U.S. Missile Defense Agency, building on a string of successful tests, recently
awarded a contract for 29 more SM-3 missiles for Aegis warships. This is the
start of the next phase of building a national missile defense system that will
largely render the ICBM obsolete.
How is this so, when
Russia alone has 560 ICBMs? One look at American plans for 38 ground-based
interceptors and 55 SM-3s would not seem to make much of a dent (less than 20
percent, if all interceptor missiles hit their targets) in a Russian ICBM
attack. First of all, this calculus ignores other countries. At least 25 countries
have ballistic missiles. Some are less-than-model global citizens.
The system as it now
stands, with 13 operational ground-based interceptors, and plans to increase to
a total of 18 by the end of 2007, is already sufficient to have neutralized
China's force of 24 DF-5 ICBMs. How is this so, considering that China has six
more missiles that the U.S. has interceptors? Simple subtraction would seem to
indicate that at least six ICBMs would get through to their targets in an
attempted strike (which is possible on at least one occasion, Chinese
generals have threatened to use nukes if the U.S. and China came to blows over
missile defense system still provides a deterrent against launching attacks
because a country that does decide to launch missiles at the United States or
any of its allies protected by a missile defense shield, will not know which of
its missiles will fail to reach their targets. They need more ICBMs, and money
spent on ICBMs is money that cannot be spent on carriers, amphibious ships, or
other items needed for a successful invasion of Taiwan.
The SM-3 carries another
edge. By operating from Aegis vessels, it means the U.S. can defend deployed
forces. Countries with shorter-range missiles will also face the same problems
that plague a potential ICBM attack. Which missiles get stopped, the ones
targeting the American supply depots, or the ones targeting the air base? It's
impossible to know for sure. And an American tripwire will have time to dig in,
and get reinforcements from heavier forces.
Making matters worse for
potential adversaries is the fact that the successful tests have made the
missile defense system very hard for Congress to touch, even though the current
leadership opposed a national missile defense system for years. By performing
well, the missile defense system has made a lot of friends, and pulling the
plug on a successful program can be a very hard sell politically.
As the missile defense
system is built further, the success of an ICBM attack will become more
uncertain. And that will be a huge deterrent to launching said attack in the
first place, particularly when it is well known that the United States can
respond and its attack will not face a missile defense system. Harold C.