Seabased Ballistic: Missile Defense

By Hicks, Alan B. | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Seabased Ballistic: Missile Defense

Hicks, Alan B., Joint Force Quarterly


As the 21st century dawns, the world presents a precarious mixture of growing challenges. The events of September 11, 2001, clearly revealed that Americans are at risk from terrorist attacks throughout the world, even within the borders of their own country. Earlier terrorist attacks targeted U.S. Government and military personnel and sites, such as the bombings of U.S. Embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole while in port in Yemen. Now, everyday American civilians are at risk. Considering the strategic environment, we face growing threats from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the hands of states or nonstate actors.

These threats range from terrorism to ballistic missiles tipped with WMD, intended to intimidate the United States by holding it, its friends, and its allies hostage. Presently, more than 25 nations have developed chemical and biological WMD. More than 30 nations have ballistic missiles in their arsenals. Not only are forward deployed forces at risk from ballistic missiles, but also the U.S. homeland is within range of these threats, which continue to grow in number, range, and complexity. One factor that makes ballistic missiles desirable as a delivery vehicle for WMD is that the United States and its allies have lacked an effective defense against this threat.

Within 30 minutes, an intercontinental ballistic missile could be launched from any location in the world and strike somewhere in the United States. Today, over 200,000 forward deployed American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines are at risk from short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles located in North Korea and Iran. (1) On July 4 and 5, 2006, North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles, including a long-range Taepo Dong-2. (2) In October of that year, North Korea detonated a nuclear device. (3) During the Great Prophet exercise conducted in November, Iranian state television reported that dozens of ballistic missiles were fired, some capable of striking Israel, Turkey, and American bases in that region. These events demonstrate that ballistic missiles are not a future threat, so there is an urgent need to rapidly deploy a ballistic missile defense capability.


The emerging missile threat from hostile states is fundamentally different from that of the Cold War and requires both a different approach to deterrence and new tools for defense. Today's rogue leaders view WMD as weapons of choice, not of last resort. These weapons are their means to compensate for U.S. conventional strength, allowing them to pursue their objectives through coercion and intimidation.


To deter such threats, the United States must devalue ballistic missiles as tools of extortion and aggression by fielding defenses. Although missile defenses are not a replacement for an offensive response capability, such defenses are a critical dimension of deterrence. Missile defenses will also help to assure U.S. allies and friends and to dissuade countries from pursuing ballistic missiles by undermining their military value. (4)

Fighting and winning wars are the main missions of the U.S. Armed Forces; however, deterring wars, one of our strategic priorities, is always preferable. To ensure credible deterrence across the range of threats in the current strategic environment, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has expressed the need for a "New Triad" consisting of improved global strike capability, further developed global missile defense systems, and modernized strategic weapons systems and infrastructure. Also, increased emphasis is needed not only on development of American capabilities but also on building the capacity of partners to counter threats and to promote regional stability. (5)

Missile Defense Agency

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) was established to integrate all missile defense programs and technologies into one Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), which will provide integrated, multilayered defense to intercept ballistic missiles of all ranges and in all phases of flight. …

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