While everyone is obsessed with our national health, the future of our national defense must not be ignored. Protecting the homeland must be the foremost priority of the leaders from both parties. We’re distracted by a threat that is invisible, but there are very visible ones that could strike at any time, notably missile attacks from an increasingly chaotic world.
The last line of defense against the existential threat of nuclear attack is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program, the only technology capable of protecting the homeland from intercontinental missiles.
Currently, a conference committee from the House and Senate are considering the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with mounting pressure from the Democrat-controlled House to cut spending at the Pentagon to pay for costly coronavirus response efforts. Roll Call predicts the annual ritual will be “less acrimonious” than last year’s, but with Democrats scrambling to jam as much election-year pork into COVID-relief bills as they can, it’s no time to get complacent.
The Senate draft includes $200 million for the GMD, which must be protected.
If our enemies see that a biological agent can cripple our economy and government, they can exploit this now and in the future as a prelude to military action. Congress and the Pentagon must support further deployment of our physical defenses regardless of COVID-19 distraction. Rogue actors in Iran and North Korea want to test us to show they can enter the big league – indeed, the GMD was originally created in response to a growing North Korean threat.
In the late 1990s, North Korea’s emerging nuclear ambitions spurred the United States to withdraw from the 1972 Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), which prohibited the deployment of new ballistic missile defense capabilities. The “threats we face today are far different from those of the Cold War,” was the Bush administration’s irrefutable mantra. Things in North Korea haven’t gotten better in the past 20 years, even if we accept the conspiracy theory that Kim Jong Un’s life was claimed by COVID.
Moreover, China is “building a navy in space” and is leveraging the current panic in its 100-year marathon to replace the US as the world’s defining power. One imagines we don’t want to tell future generations of indentured Americans that we saved them from corona so that China could inherit the Earth.
One problem undermining confidence in the GMD is a recent flub by Raytheon, which botched the last upgrade of the GMD’s so-called “kill vehicles.” The Exoastmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) is attached to a booster rocket, which then detaches to intercept the incoming ICBM well before it can strike its intended target. Raytheon had been working on a Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) last year, which has not operated according to standards, has seen its cost triple, and is four years behind schedule, according to Defense News.
While Raytheon has made some mistakes with the RKV, a new contractor can resolve these if the Pentagon sticks with it and Congress gives them adequate resources. The RKV delay won’t prevent the GMD system expanding from 44 to 64 interceptors based in California and Alaska – right in the way of North Korean missiles – we’ll just have to make due with the EKV for a little while longer. One fix is to sideline Raytheon from this process.
But we can’t wait. Our adversaries certainly won’t. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Ark) said, “Given the continued evolution of advanced adversaries’ missile capabilities and still uncertain and unpredictable nature of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, we cannot afford to wait possibly a decade for a new and still conceptual kill vehicle.”
The world is a dangerous place. China is carrying a 500-year-old grudge that the West had a colonial period while it was stuck inside its own borders. Russia considers the Cold War merely paused, not over. North Korea and Iran want to force their way to the big kids’ table. Now is no time for the United States to lose its resolve.
Jared Whitley is a longtime DC politico, having worked in the US Senate, Bush White House, and defense industry.