'Eye in the Sky' Could Spot Approaching Threats; Missile Proliferation Adds Urgency to Airborne Defense

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You need only to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television to be reminded that threats facing America are becoming more serious and diverse.

In the Western Pacific and the Gulf, North Korea is helping Iran on both missiles and nuclear weapons, a troubling development crystallized with Pyongyang's recent test of a space launch vehicle and a nuclear weapon.

According to Olli Heinonen, a former lead weapons inspector for the United Nations, the wording of a new agreement between Iran and North Korea mimics the previous deal between North Korea and Syria that led to the construction of a nuclear reactor. U.S. officials also know that Chinese companies have been helping both countries with the same technology.

On the other side of the globe, reports suggest that Iran is building missile bases in Venezuela, which happens to be the exact range needed for an Iranian Shahab-3 missile to strike Miami. It doesn't take much imagination to envision a rocket launched from a rogue freighter, armed with a nuclear warhead, as a prelude to an electromagnetic pulse attack high above the atmosphere or a more conventional attack, including an airburst just above the Manhattan skyline.

It is a fact of life that missiles are becoming conventional weapons of choice. In The Revenge of Geography, Robert Kaplan notes Syria, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel are in a new and deathly geographical embrace of overlapping missile ranges.

As America searches for solutions, some say deterrence is the best defense. There are more than 2,000 terrorist attacks each year, though, and a multitude of conventional conflicts, all of which have, obviously, not been deterred.

The very nature of state-directed terrorism today, says R. James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, means that such attacks are largely surreptitious, their origin hidden in the vast expanse of the oceans. Retaliation, and thus deterrence, becomes difficult.

It is clear that America needs a more comprehensive strategy. With motivated adversaries developing threats that are increasingly complex, the U.S. military's challenge is to anticipate what technologies will best protect its citizens, troops and allies from enemy nations.

One such example is a new system akin to the palantir, the magical seeing stone from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The technology is known as Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System.

The sensor system is a tethered airship that has a revolutionary capability to guide our own interceptors to their targets, using multiple defenses against a wide-ranging number of incoming missiles. …