Bush Team Unveils Missile Defense Plans; Democrats Upset

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Bush Team Unveils Missile Defense Plans; Democrats Upset


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


THROUGHOUT JULY, THE Bush administration sketched out details of its proposed $8.3 billion ballistic missile defense testing program. But getting its plans fully funded will require winning over Senate Democrats who have severely criticized the program, in large part because the Bush administration contends its testing will come into conflict with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty within months.

At the first in a series of July congressional hearings, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, head of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), testified July 12 that the administration would conduct a robust research and development program with the goal of fielding a layered defense-possibly consisting of ground-, sea-, air-, and space-based systems-enabling multiple intercept attempts after a hostile ballistic missile launch. BMDO oversees U.S. missile defense programs.

Although the two officials claimed that no decision has been made on procuring any specific systems and that no deployment dates have been set, BMDO prepared briefing slides calling for three "emergency capabilities" by about 2005. These "contingency" capabilities will be ground-based missile interceptors, sea-based interceptors, and an airborne laser (ABL). Only the ground-based system is expected to be capable of countering long-range ballistic missiles by 2006.

The primary "emergency capability" is the deployment of up to five ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska. A private Alaska company started preparatory work, such as clearing trees and digging water wells, at the site on August 28. The Pentagon plans to start construction in April and finish the work as early as 2004.

Kadish told senators on July 17 that he "wouldn't expect the changes to be difficult" to convert Fort Greely from a testing to an operational site. Wolfowitz testified that such a decision would depend upon how testing proceeds and the status of the threat, though he underscored that the administration wants to have the option to use the facility for emergency deployment.

While describing Fort Greely as a test site, Wolfowitz acknowledged in a July 19 House Armed Services Committee hearing that no test missile interceptors could be launched out of Fort Greely until some safety concerns are resolved. For instance, burnedout boosters from the missile interceptors could potentially fall on populated areas.

Wolfowitz admitted that starting construction at Fort Greely could be viewed as a treaty violation. At the July 12 hearing, he said that a central issue for U.S. plans is whether development of a test site "becomes illegal if you harbor the intention or the plan or the possibility of turning [it] into an operational capability." He concluded, "It's going to take a great deal of legal argument to decide what the answer is to that."

The 1972 ABM Treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from building nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles but permits each country to build test ranges and to possess a single operational missile site for a regional defense. Washington selected North Dakota as the location for its permitted site under the treaty.

The Sea- and Air-Based Options

BMDO also plans to press ahead with testing ship-based missile interceptors. It aims to flight-test an interceptor designed to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles this fall and wants to hold five more of these tests during the next fiscal year. The goal is to have a potential contingency capability in 2004, but Kadish said July 13 that he would not expect to have a ship-based capability against long-range missiles before the end of the decade.

Similarly, ABL is currently designed to counter short- and medium-range missiles, but Kadish noted in his July 12 prepared statement that BMDO is "taking deliberate steps to prepare ABL for a strategic defense role as well. …

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