Air and Missile Defense Goes Global

By Lennox, Robert P. | Army, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Air and Missile Defense Goes Global


Lennox, Robert P., Army


In October, North Korea tested a nuclear device that pushed the nightmare scenario of a rogue state armed with both nuclear warheads and missile delivery systems a step closer to reality. The underground detonation generated international headlines calling for increased spending on missile defense programs, but many of the initiatives called for in the articles that appeared below the headlines were already under way.

In Okinawa on the day of the nuclear test, the first shipment of Patriot Advanced Capabilities-3 (PAC-3) missile equipment had just arrived at Tengan Pier and was awaiting delivery to the 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery (ADA), Kadena Air Base, Japan. The Patriot battalion's deployment from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Japan had made its own headlines because it symbolized both the buildup of U.S. theater missile defense capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region and a coalition approach to a more proactive defense posture.

As Pyongyang started its countdown, soldiers of Battery C, 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, 35th ADA Brigade, Osan Air Base, South Korea, were, by coincidence, conducting an operational readiness exercise to ensure that Patriot missile launchers oriented to defend against an air attack from the north were ready to launch at a moment's notice. As Echo Battery's "hot" crews went about their battle drills, they were not particularly concerned about North Korea's nuclear capabilities or its development of a long-range missile that might someday be capable of reaching the U.S. West Coast. North Korea's burgeoning arsenal of short- and medium-range theater ballistic missiles, which they knew could strike any spot on the peninsula with conventional or chemical warheads, gave them enough to worry about.

The stellar performance of U.S. Patriot systems during Operation Iraqi Freedom, when the system went eight for eight against Iraqi missiles, provided soldiers of the U.S. Patriot battalions cause for confidence. However, Patriot is only the lower tier of America's envisioned multilayered theater air and missile defense system. The terminal high-altitude area defense (THAAD) system, which will serve as the upper tier of theater missile defense, is yet to be fielded. The good news is that the missing piece is about to fall into place.

In September, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced its decision to accelerate the THAAD testing and fielding schedule, a decision that resulted from U.S. and allied combatant commanders' concerns around the world. The MDA based its decision to speed up THAAD fielding on concerns expressed by combatant commanders such as Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of U.S. Forces Korea. Gen. Bell had described the threat posed by the North Korean missile arsenal, which he said includes more than 600 Scud missiles and as many as 200 medium-range ballistic missiles, during his appearance before the House Armed Services Committee on March 9, 2006. "The regional missile threat requires a robust theater missile defense system to protect critical Combined Forces Command capabilities and personnel. PAC-3 missile system upgrades and improved munitions have significantly enhanced our posture," Gen. Bell told the committee. "To protect critical U.S. facilities in Korea, we must complete upgrading the remainder of our systems with advanced theater missile defense capabilities. Continued production of PAC-3 missiles in the near term, followed by continued development of the terminal high-altitude air defense, airborne laser and Aegis ballistic missile defense will provide the layered missile defense capability we require in the future."

Events subsequent to Gen. Bell's appearance before the committee reinforced his assessment of the theater ballistic missile threat. On July 4, 2006, North Korea conducted test launches of a long-range missile and five shorter-range ballistic missiles. The long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile, which some analysts believe is capable of hitting the western United States, failed after about 40 seconds, but it caused U. …

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