America Becomes Safer; Progress Made on Missile Defense
Byline: Peter Huessy, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The United States recently tested a missile defense system. The interceptor from Vandenberg USAF base in California smashed into a target launched from Alaska in a demonstration of the technological prowess of U.S. industry. A message was sent to North Korea that any rocket launched at Los Angeles is going to be destroyed - in other words, that nuclear blackmail is off the table.
The test also gave impetus to deploying a defense in Europe against Iranian rockets. However, before the microscopic dust from the test had settled on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, the critics came forward belittling the system, claiming in one instance that there was no threat to address. The Center for Defense Information (CDI), published an assessment of missile-defense test failures.
But the analysis asserted that there is no need for a missile defense against Iranian or North Korean rockets because both are no threat to either the United States or our European allies.
Monitoring the threat from ballistic missiles is "one of the most important missions for the intelligence community in the post-Cold War world" according to a 1999 statement from Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs. But in making its assertion, CDI made no reference to missile threat assessments from our intelligence community.
According to Mr. Walpole, the 1995 National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] said North Korea "could flight test an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] by the year 2000," and that the "ballistic missile threat that we face is serious; it's growing." In 1998, a North Korean missile test included "an unanticipated third stage" which surprised the intelligence community and provided confirmation that Pyongyang "was pursuing an ICBM."
The NIE estimated that the North Korean rockets could deliver a 1,000-kilogram payload some 4,000 to 6,000 kilometers (in other words, approximately 2,500 to 3,800 miles.) That means it could "reach Alaska, Hawaii, with this large payload," Mr. Walpole said. In addition, a successful third stage would give North Korea the capability of reaching the "rest of the United States with smaller payloads."
According to Mr. Walpole, the 1998 North Korean Taepodong rocket launch "served as a wake-up call." It proved the central assertion of the Rumsfeld commission report on missile threats to the United States, which came out in 1998. The report underscored that "it is possible for a country with a well-based Scud [missile] technology infrastructure to develop an ICBM in five years. …