Missile Plan Sound, But…

While Defense Secretary Robert Gates' new missile defense plan has been slammed by Republicans for either giving in to the Russians, abandoning our allies or focusing on the wrong threat, there are other questions that need answering.

While Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new missile defense plan has been slammed by Republicans for either giving in to the Russians, abandoning our allies or focusing on the wrong threat, there are other questions that need answering.

One of the most difficult issues is, do we have enough Aegis cruisers to execute the mission. Gates wants two to three cruisers in the Mediterranean and North Sea on a regular basis. That comes on top of the Pacific mission. And I hear that the Aegis fleet is already operating at 160 percent of its readiness rate, mostly to cope with the North Korean threat. One source with detailed knowledge of European missile defense efforts said the new mission will require at least one and perhaps more Aegis class ships to do the job.

Then there are basic questions about cost. Those SM-3 land-based missiles Gates wants to deploy don’t exist yet in any numbers and it will be several years before they reach IOC. And then there are those pesky contract termination costs for the GBI system planned for Poland.

On the whole, one of the most experienced missile defense experts around, former head of the Missile Defense Agency, Trey Obering, believes the administration’s approach may not hurt a great deal but he does have reservations, as colleague Jamie McIntyre notes in a piece he did over at his blog, The Line of Departure.

It’s good in the short-term against short range threats, but still leaves Europe vulnerable to long-range missiles for a decade or more, “We can handle the short to medium range threat with the SM-3s that we have, and with the THAAD that we have, what we can’t handle is anything beyond 3,500 to 4,000 kilometers.”

Gen. Obering acknowledges the Obama administration is not scuttling long-range defenses, just kicking the can down the road.

“Before, if we had had the treaties ratified last year we would have put the first long range interceptor in the ground in 2013 , if you move that a year that would be 2014. But we would have finished it in 2015, 2016. Now we are not going to have any long range protection at all until 2018 or 2020,” Obering says.