A Step toward Sanity

By Keeny, Spurgeon M., Jr. | Arms Control Today, February 1996 | Go to article overview

A Step toward Sanity


Keeny, Spurgeon M., Jr., Arms Control Today


The Pentagon has taken a major step toward reining in the run-away ballistic missile defense (BMD) program that needlessly threatened future progress in strategic arms control. On February 16, Secretary of Defense William Perry announced the reorientation of the program in keeping with realistic assessments of the threat from "rogue nations." Top priority will be assigned to theater missile defenses (TMD) against existing shorterrange missiles. Work on more advanced theater defenses against possible future threats will be slowed, with deployment decisions deferred until the next century. The national missile defense program will focus on a single-site system capable of quick deployment if a long-range threat actually emerges. With this announcement, prospects improved for Russian ratification of START II and further reductions in strategic nuclear arsenals.

The lure of funds for a new TMD mission led the three services to proliferate a half dozen programs that collectively would have eventually cost at least $50 billion to $100 billion. The wildly excessive and misleading projections of the ballistic missile threat stimulated congressional calls for the deployment of a multi-site national missile defense as well. A more sober intelligence assessment has concluded that this threat will remain short-range for some time, and that ballistic missiles capable of striking the continental United States from any potential rogue state are at least 15 years in the future.

Confronted with competing demands for limited modernization funds, the requirements group in the Joint Chiefs of Staff OCS) concluded that the BMD program was overfunded against threats that may never appear, and did not pay enough attention to perfecting systems that could deal with the existing threat from shorter-range missiles. On the basis of this assessment, a high-level review committee, led by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquistion and Technology Paul Kaminski, developed the reoriented program that has the support of the JCS.

The resulting TMD program will focus on completing the Army's PAC-3 (an advanced version of the Patriot missile system) and the Navy's Lower-Tier System, neither of which conflict with the ABM Treaty. The reoriented program will slow down the two more ambitious programs, the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and the Navy's inchoate theater-wide defense system, both of which have raised questions about their compatibility with the ABM Treaty. …

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