Missile Defense: Time to Go Big

Nations around the world continue to develop a growing range of ballistic and cruise missiles to asymmetrically threaten U.S. forces, allies, and the American homeland. Missile defenses have now become an essential part of U.S. defense policy and strategy, and their importance shows no sign of diminishing.

During the campaign, President-elect Donald Trump pledged to “develop a state of the art missile defense system.” Several means to a more effective, robust, and layered missile defense include increased capacity and capability, new concepts of operation, more expectations of allies and partners, a space sensor layer, and next generation technologies. These and others will require a budgetary correction away from the downward trend of the past decade, during which the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) budget declined by nearly a quarter, from $11 billion in 2007 to $8.4 billion in 2016 (2017 dollars).

ISSUE

One especially pressing threat is posed by North Korea. Pyongyang has accelerated the pace of its provocations to unprecedented levels, with 22 missile tests and two nuclear detonations in 2016 alone. Iran is also bolstering its missile capabilities, with a steady testing program and the apparent aim of improving accuracy to better threaten military targets.

Russia and China continue to advance their already sophisticated missile arsenals at both the strategic and tactical level. Russia is modernizing all three legs of its nuclear triad, maintains a suite of short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles to hold NATO at risk, and has tested an intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) in violation of the INF Treaty. Besides improving its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), shorter-range missiles are a key part of Beijing’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy for regional conflict.

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