Missile Defense!

Most national security and military experts agree that the threat of ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction represents the primary existential threat to the United States. But few realize it is the U.S. Navy that is doing the heavy lifting to protect the homeland and our forces forward from this threat.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States provided a dramatic warning that even the “world’s hegemon,” as America was called by some, was not invulnerable to threats against the homeland. As Americans, their elected officials, and the intelligence and military communities evaluated 21st century threats, the assessment was clear. Absent terrorists operating on American soil, the one existential threat to the nation was the rapidly growing number of states and other actors who already possessed – or were developing – chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and who also possessed, or were developing, ballistic missiles to carry these weapons great distances. In the decade-plus since those 9/11 attacks, rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea have, in fact, developed and in some cases launched ballistic missiles, often designed to intimidate their neighbors.

One of the early – and compelling – calls for a prominent Navy role in dealing with the ballistic missile threat came over a decade ago in a little-noticed report issued by the U.S. National Defense University. Published in their occasional series Defense Horizons, and written by Hans Binnendijk and George Stewart, the report broke important new ground. Provocatively titled Toward Missile Defenses from the Sea, the study’s authors were prescient in envisioning the role Aegis BMD is playing today. Their report noted, in part:

During the past several years, national intelligence estimates have indicated a growing missile threat from North Korea, Iran, and Iraq that will continue to increase throughout this decade… Developments of the past 18 months have created new possibilities for seabasing of national defenses against intercontinental ballistic missiles… Using missile interceptors based at sea to defend the United States against ICBMs offers several advantages, the most important of which are flexibility and control. The most cost-effective option for a potential seaborne deployment is the use of upgraded Aegis radars and modified SM-3 missiles for boost-phase intercepts onboard existing combat ships stationed near the Korean Peninsula and the eastern Mediterranean. In addition to providing a layer of boost-phase defense, ships at these locations would provide radar coverage early in the flight of an ICBM – a valuable asset to the midcourse defense layer.

Read more about the United States journey to provide world-class missile defense in my series of articles on missile defense on the Defense Media Network’s website here.