President-elect Bush and his senior national security advisers and Cabinet nominees have reiterated a campaign pledge that one of the incoming administration’s primary defense goals will be to build a national missile defense shield as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, during Senate confirmation hearings, Defense Secretary-nominee Donald Rumsfeld carefully avoided setting a deployment timetable for a missile defense shield, but stated clearly that the missile threat to the U.S. was growing and that the country should deploy a system as soon as possible.

“Effective missile defense — not only homeland defense but also the ability to defend U.S. allies abroad and our friends — must be achieved in the most cost-effective manner that modern technology offers,” Rumsfeld said.

“We must develop the capabilities to defend against missiles, terrorism and newer threats against our space assets and information systems,” he added. “The American people, our forces abroad and our friends and allies must be protected against the threats with which modern technology and its proliferation confront us.”

Indeed, as President-elect George W. Bush prepares to take office Jan. 20, one of the most pressing issues facing his administration will be the daunting task of rebuilding, reinvigorating and re-supplying a U.S. military force that has been badly demoralized, de-emphasized, and — some say — outright abused in the eight years of the Clinton-Gore administration.

One of Bush’s stated goals during the campaign last year was to “rebuild” the U.S. military into a “strong, capable and modern” force to ensure the “foundation of the peace we enjoy today and hope to extend for future generations.”

Now, on the precipice of a new Bush administration, the president-elect and his national security team — Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, himself a former defense secretary; Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary nominee and one-time defense secretary for President Gerald Ford; and Condoleezza Rice, the president-elect’s national security adviser — will soon be given the helm of the Defense Department and, perhaps more importantly, the foreign policy ship of state that is tied inextricably to long-term military goals and initiatives.

Though the Bush national security team has pledged to review current Pentagon weapons programs, increase funds for soldier pay, benefits and training, and shore up sagging spare parts and replacement accounts, perhaps the most important defense-related goal touted by Bush during the campaign was his aim to build a missile-defense system capable of defending U.S. territory and U.S. forces deployed abroad.

The birth of ‘Star Wars’

Vehemently opposed by Russia and China, the concept of a U.S. national missile defense shield capable of at least limited defenses is not new and, in fact, dates back to the immediate post-World War II era.

Stunned by the effectiveness of German-built “buzz bombs” — the V-2 rockets launched against England almost daily in the latter phases of the war — U.S. and allied military planners realized early on that some sort of defense against such an offensive weapon was needed, lest military forces, civilians and the cities where they lived remain vulnerable in the next conflict.

Rocket technology transformed into ballistic missile technology — then into Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles — throughout the 1950s. By the 1960s, the U.S. Air Force continued study of a missile-defense program begun under the old Army air force. That plan involved the development of interceptors that could destroy incoming missiles before they had a chance to reach their targets.

In the 1960s and ’70s, U.S. military researchers developed a pair of systems capable of limited defenses. One system, the Sentinel missile system, was designed to protect the domestic population from a light missile attack. Another, called Safeguard, was designed to protect U.S. deterrent systems.

But by the early 1980s, U.S. officials began to believe that the Soviet Union — which had been hard at work developing new ICBMs and upgrading delivery systems — had managed to achieve a survivable first-strike capability that would not only destroy most U.S. nuclear delivery systems, but also survive an expected U.S. counter-strike with enough weapons to deliver yet another blow to American cities.

In essence, U.S. military and civilian leaders began to suspect that the USSR had built a ballistic missile system which would give them the winning edge in a nuclear exchange with the United States.

By 1983, the Reagan administration had developed and began to tout a space-based anti-missile system dubbed the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, but euphemistically mocked as “Star Wars” — a term first employed by Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Democrat, and based on the popular science fiction movie series.

In February, 1983, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended to Reagan that the U.S. start placing a greater emphasis on missile defense. Reagan agreed with the Joint Chiefs’ recommendation and enthusiastically argued such a system was needed.

In a nationally televised speech on March 23, 1983, without consulting Congress, Reagan went directly to the American public and introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative — a multi-billion dollar plan to create an impenetrable shield to intercept and destroy any incoming long-range ballistic missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction.

The proposed SDI system was to incorporate a combination of land-, sea-, air- and space-based weapons — all linked to a single communications, relay and warning system — that would be able to knock down enemy missiles during flight.

Almost immediately, critics of the administration labeled the plan unworkable, too costly and technologically impossible.

Critics, who were often Democrats, complained that Reagan’s SDI program would also endanger ongoing arms-reduction talks with the Soviet Union — an argument revived during the late stages of the Clinton administration — and pointed to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s 1986 proposal to Reagan to reduce ICBMs in both countries’ arsenals 50 percent by 1991.

Reagan, however, declined Gorbachev’s offer and instead pushed forward with SDI research. This effort would continue until 1993, throughout Reagan’s remaining tenure and the entirety of President George Bush’s administration.

In 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bush and then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney concluded that the SDI program should be refocused somewhat, since the Cold War-era threat of a massive Soviet missile attack was no longer probable.

But rather than end the program completely, Bush and Cheney decided on — and Congress approved — a deployment plan called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, however, “the Clinton administration canceled both the SDI program and the GPALS in 1993.”

Ballistic missile growth in the 1990s

Believing that the best approach in dealing with Russian arms-control issues was to reduce even the perception of a threat by the U.S., the Clinton administration, during both terms, reversed course and concentrated on diplomatic concessions, treaties to reduce nuclear arsenals and avoidance of continuing research on most ballistic missile-defense systems.

Citing the controversial 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the Clinton administration said the language of that agreement prevented a large-scale U.S. anti-missile shield and, at best, allowed for only a limited shield that could not protect the entirety of the United States, but only, at a maximum, localized U.S. forces that may be deployed abroad.

Republican critics of the administration complained that President Clinton’s national security and foreign policy teams were sacrificing the safety and integrity of the American people by adhering to an agreement with a country that no longer existed — the U.S.S.R.

Also, pro-defense critics said that while the Clinton administration pushed weapons cut-backs and, in fact, did scale back U.S. nuclear missile deployments, Moscow was busy using any funds it could find for new ballistic missile research, development and deployment. Indeed, Russia deployed new long-range Topol-M ICBMs beginning in 1998.

Meanwhile, Republicans said China was enhancing its ballistic-missile capability, even as third-world nations like North Korea, Iran and Iraq were also building domestic ballistic-missile programs.

Defense advocates continued to champion SDI-like missile-defense programs by pointing to intelligence failures such as Washington’s inability to predict the Pakistani and Indian nuclear weapons tests in 1998, as well as the launch of a new three-stage, long-range ballistic missile by North Korea over Japanese territorial waters Aug. 31, 1998.

Taken in combination, the ongoing development programs, the intelligence failures and the Chinese threats to use nuclear ballistic missiles to enforce domestic policy, many Republicans – including the incoming Bush administration, during the campaign — argued for stronger missile defenses.

Despite the evidence, however, Clinton continued to resist missile defense, though he finally agreed to support development of a small, ground-based interceptor system that would eventually deploy about 100 interceptor missiles in Alaska and North Dakota by 2005.

For many experts, though, Clinton’s decision was too little, too late.

“If deployed, this system would have no capability to intercept long-range ballistic missiles in their boost phase,” the Heritage Foundation concluded in an “Issues 2000” candidate’s report, “Missile Defense: Ending America’s Vulnerability.”

“A more effective and less costly system for missile defense would use both sea- and space-based interceptors. … Ground-based interceptors may eventually play a constructive role by supplementing sea- and space-based interceptors, but they cannot provide an effective defense by themselves,” the report said.

The earliest use of a ballistic-missile system in actual combat came during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Then, President Bush said 41 out of 42 SCUD missiles launched at Israel by Iraq were intercepted by Patriot air defense systems — the one exception being the SCUD missile that slammed into an Air Force barracks, killing the most U.S. personnel on any single day during the brief war.

Critics of that system, however, claimed the Patriots intercepted very few SCUDS.

“Later evidence revealed that in reality, no more than four SCUD missiles were intercepted,” said a report by the activist group, Physicians for Social Responsibility. The Pentagon disputes this figure.

Current threats drive missile-defense push

In 1999, Congress enacted the National Missile Defense Act in response to new information that, worldwide, ballistic-missile threats to the United States were increasing instead of decreasing, as some think tanks, organizations and the Clinton administration had been arguing.

Part of the decision to write and pass the legislation came from a 1998 report issued by a committee headed by President-elect Bush’s defense secretary-nominee, Donald Rumsfeld.

In its “Report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States,” the Rumsfeld Commission — which was staffed by both Democrat and Republican officials and policy experts — concluded that the United States would have “little or no warning” of the operational deployment of ballistic missiles by rogue states that are capable of threatening the United States.

“The commission’s findings were reinforced later that month when Iran tested an intermediate-range missile, and again in August when North Korea launched a three-stage rocket over Japan,” said the Heritage Foundation’s analysts.

The commission’s conclusions refuted “the Clinton administration’s 1995 National Intelligence Estimate that the rogue state missile threat was at least 15 years away,” Heritage experts added.

In fact, studies show that at least 20 third-world countries are known to have or may be developing weapons of mass destruction (including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons) as well as ballistic-missile delivery systems. The list of countries stockpiling such weapons includes Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

“North Korea’s missile program is particularly threatening. North Korea caught the U.S. intelligence community by surprise when … it launched a three-stage rocket, called the Taepo Dong-1, over Japan,” the Heritage report said. “This launch demonstrated that North Korea, a country that technically remains at war with a U.S. ally, South Korea, will be able to threaten U.S. territory with ballistic missiles in the near future.”

Ballistic missile development programs

Despite resistance to national missile defense by the Clinton administration and congressional critics, a number of missile defense-related programs are currently under development.

Airborne Laser: Probably one of the most ambitious programs is the Airborne Laser program, or ABL, headed up by Boeing, TRW and Lockheed Martin — the nation’s top weapons contractors for aircraft and other space-based military applications.

In March 1999, WorldNetDaily reported on the U.S. airborne laser project. At that time, the project’s prime contractors had just won a “$1.1 billion contract to ‘design and test’ an airborne anti-ballistic missile platform using laser technology.”

Using a Boeing 747-400 cargo plane as a platform, the ABL system, by design, will be deployed in airspace near an enemy’s expected missile trajectory paths, then be able to track and shoot down ascending ICBMs with a high-powered laser beam.

Bob Smith, a space and communications division spokesman for Boeing, said initially the Air Force envisions a fleet of seven airplanes with rapid deployment capability, so they can be sent to areas where they are most needed in a short time — “in order to deter an enemy from using ballistic missiles against our forces.”

Earlier this month, Air Force officials said they would ask Congress for $38 million in fiscal 2001 to continue funding for the program, lest program officials miss a scheduled test-fire date in 2003.

Program officials say the Airborne Laser project will cost around $10,000 “per shot,” and each laser platform will have a service life of 40 shots.

The ABL program office is located at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Theater High Altitude Area Defense: THAAD is a second-tier ballistic-missile defense system currently under development by the Army.

Its purpose, the Pentagon said, is to address “critical warfighter requirements to intercept longer-range theater-class ballistic missiles at high altitudes and further downrange from the intended target.”

By designing the system to hit incoming missiles further downrange, there will be “more time for multiple shot opportunities to intercept theater ballistic missile threats, especially those carrying weapons of mass destruction, and destroy them at longer ranges and higher altitudes,” said published Defense Department material describing THAAD.

The THAAD system is one of the most mature ballistic missile defense systems in terms of development, and is expected to be fielded in the 2007 timeframe, according to the Department of Defense. The system achieved its first successful intercept during Flight Test No. 10 on June 10, 1999.

The system consists of four separate components: truck-mounted launchers; interceptors; the THAAD radar system; and the THAAD battle management system, featuring command/control/communications and intelligence systems for tracking, targeting and shooting down incoming ballistic missiles.

Navy missile defense system: The Navy is also developing its own system as a third tier of defense to protect U.S. land and naval forces in a theater of operation.

Called the Theaterwide Ballistic Missile Defense system, it is designed to provide an above-the-atmosphere missile-defense capability from AEGIS-equipped U.S. Navy surface combatants.

When complete, Pentagon officials said the Navy’s TBMD “will provide an intercept capability against medium- and long-range theater ballistic missiles.” The Navy’s system is seen as incredibly versatile — able to be deployed anywhere in the world aboard warships charged with providing air and missile defense cover for U.S. forces on land and in the air.

All missile defense development programs fall under the purview of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, a Pentagon office charged with “managing, directing and executing the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program.”

Critics abound

On March 9, 1999, WND published a story detailing charges made by a critic of the Pentagon’s missile-defense program, who claimed, among other things, that ABL in particular and other programs in general “do not now, and won’t ever, work.”

The expert, who spoke to WND on condition of anonymity, said “atmospheric turbulence” would cause any laser beam fired by the ABL system “to break up, and in the ABL cases, one cannot possibly correct for this.”

“Nature’s limit kills the possibility of ‘long-range’ horizontal-path laser propagation,” the source said, “and this conclusion is backed up by a United Kingdom government study (DERA) by the head of their aircraft weapons division,” said the source.

Boeing’s Bob Smith countered by saying ABL “isn’t meant to be a 100 percent solution,” but rather part of “an integrated Theater Missile Defense architecture.”

In its missile defense study, the Heritage Foundation also articulated what has long been known by military planners – that the “‘perfect defense’ argument is a red herring,” because “if perfection were the standard by which all military programs were judged, then America would never deploy any kind of defense.”

Also, as Heritage stated, “a perfect defense is not necessary to dissuade aggression,” noting that “an enemy contemplating a missile attack on America would face grave uncertainties even if, say, a defense were effective only 75 percent of the time.”

Rich Garcia, director of public affairs for the Airborne Laser program, echoed these conclusions, adding that the current systems under development will be forged into a single “layered” system comprised of several individual — but linked — parts.

“We’re the only ones that have a chance to destroy [missiles] after they’ve been launched,” he told WorldNetDaily, adding that the Air Force’s system would be integrated into the Army’s and Navy’s missile defense systems as well, to provide a three-stage missile defense shield involving “boost-phase” shoot-downs, high-atmosphere interception and battlefield defense as missiles close in on forces.

Heritage researchers also pointed out that developing a missile defense system capable of shooting down enemy missiles “in their boost phase — the time shortly after lift-off when enemy missiles are most vulnerable — would ensure that rogue states’ nuclear, biological or chemical payload would rain down upon themselves and not Americans.”

Another advantage of the system, said Garcia, is early detection.

“By spotting missiles early in their launch phase,” other defenses can be given “very precise information on trajectories” if the ABL system cannot shoot down all missiles launched, Garcia said. Second- and third-layer defenses would then be given precise targeting data, and would also have increased time to launch interceptors.

Garcia did admit, however, that if an enemy “hits you with dozens and dozens of missiles” at once, “no — we’re not going to be able to get them all.”

However, “an imperfect defense system clearly would be preferable to no defense system at all,” the Heritage Foundation report said, pointing out that at present, the U.S. mainland is completely unprotected against a missile attack. And, Garcia added, “the more warheads destroyed, the less damage done” to U.S. forces and the mainland.

Will it even work?

The anonymous critic that spoke to WND said the ABL program is “being built on an extensive experiment and risk-reduction program started more than 20 years ago, and continuing today.”

But Smith said much of the criticism of the program was based on outdated technical concepts and information, since these latest developments are proven, but only recently disclosed.

“The technical experts who have reviewed the program design and plan agree the technology is available to develop the weapon system,” Smith said. “The program is proceeding — and has encountered no technical showstoppers.”

Garcia added that all of the infrastructure needed to build the Airborne Laser and other missile defense systems currently existed and “were created as the program moved forward” to accommodate follow-on laser, aircraft and other associated equipment orders.

He said “the initial buy” is for seven ABL aircraft and that currently the Pentagon had no plans to buy more. But that could change, he said, depending on eventual threats and deployment requirements. He could not say how long it would take to build a single ABL aircraft and associated systems.

No need for quick deployment?

Writing for the International Herald Tribune Dec. 27, James M. Lindsey and Michael E. O’Hanlon, both senior fellows in Foreign Policy Studies for the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said President-elect Bush should avoid his temptation to “rapidly” deploy a missile defense system and instead “move sensibly,” to avoid fielding a bad system, upsetting Russia and China, or both.

Lindsey and O’Hanlon argued that the current ballistic-missile threat to the United States is “limited,” claiming that “only Russia and China currently threaten the United States with long-range missiles, and both could almost surely counter any defense now on the drawing boards.”

Also, the analysts said, “the threat from North Korea, Iran and Iraq is still probably several years off, or even longer,” echoing a 1995 Clinton administration intelligence assessment which was refuted later by the Rumsfeld Commission in 1998.

The Brookings Institute analysts also said the Bush administration should dedicate some time to renegotiating the 1972 ABM treaty, to allow the U.S. to build a national missile defense.

“Persuading Moscow to revise that 1972 treaty to permit nationwide missile defense is far preferable to abandoning it. Withdrawal would harm U.S.-Russian relations — especially efforts to reduce offensive nuclear arms in both countries,” they wrote.

“Proponents of national missile defense are right that the Bush administration should be unyielding in its commitment to defend America. But that does not require immediate treaty-busting actions that favor unpromising defensive technologies. Acting resolutely should not mean rushing to failure,” they said.

The Heritage Foundation, however, argued that negotiations over the 1972 ABM treaty “with Russia alone lack a proper legal foundation” because such negotiations would “treat Russia as if it were a party” to the treaty, which was signed with the former Soviet Union.

“Russia is not, and never has been, a party to that treaty,” the Heritage analysts point out.

Based on the best information available, U.S. intelligence agencies, foreign policy experts, weapons development experts on third-world arsenals, and senior defense managers appear nearly universal in their belief in a growing need for a missile defense system to protect Americans at home and U.S. forces abroad.

And, though some — including the Heritage Foundation — have called for a “global missile-defense shield” to be deployed by 2004, available data suggests this time frame is not likely, despite an increasing urgency stemming from the continuing growth and development of ballistic missile programs by nations hostile to the U.S.

Nevertheless, it is obvious that missile defense research which has, in some form, continued since the early 1960s in the U.S., will be ongoing in the Bush administration.

Rumsfeld — in written answers to questions posed by senators — said the missile threat had grown even more since 1998, when a panel he led investigating the missile threat concluded then that the U.S. was already at risk.

He did note, however, that no decision had been made on the kinds or type of missile defense needed or planned, including whether it would employ space-based elements.

Playing down the most recent missile defense test failures, Rumsfeld said any system that could be deployed soon need not be “fail-safe.”

“This isn’t the old ‘Star Wars’ shield that would protect everybody in the world,” he said. “Weakness is provocative. It invites people into things that they otherwise wouldn’t think of.”


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