Navy Developing Plan for Sea-Based Missile Defense

Article excerpt

The Navy is planning a ship-based national missile defense that offers flexibility and a deterrence factor to augment a land-based program to knock out incoming long-range missiles, according to a senior military official.

The senior military official spoke during an interview with The Washington Times for the first time about the Navy's developing concept of sea-based national missile defense.

Missions will range from providing early warning of missile attack to a dedicated fleet of ships that could strike enemy missiles shortly after launch, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Using data from the Navy's two regional "theater" missile-defense systems now under development, "we think we can . . . go with a sea-based NMD capability," the official said. NMD stands for national missile defense.

Internal studies have convinced senior admirals that the Navy can play a major role in supporting the developing land-based national missile defense.

"What we're really talking about now is taking the land-based national missile-defense system, as it is proposed and as we expect it will field, and potentially having a sea-based complement, which would help that system," the senior official said.

Disclosure of the Navy's secret work on defenses against long-range missiles comes as President Clinton visits Russia to discuss amending the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to permit the land-based system. Moscow so far has shown no willingness to allow treaty changes that would make the system legal under the 1972 treaty.

The sea-based national missile defense has been advocated by conservatives in Congress who see ship-mounted defenses as a more effective approach to missile defense than the treaty-constrained program of the Clinton administration.

The ABM Treaty bans development and deployment of a missile-defense system that protects all 50 states. It allows a single site for protecting either the U.S. or Russian capital or a single offensive missile field.

The Russian ABM system rings Moscow. The United States has no fielded missile defense.

Mr. Clinton was set to decide this summer whether to field the limited ground-based national missile defense. The decision, however, could be delayed until the fall. …