Top Defense officials on Monday reaffirmed the Obama administration's commitment to an "effective ballistic missile defense" capability and rejected any idea of abolishing the Missile Defense Agency and transferring its functions to the different armed services.
The officials also emphasized the need to extend the "phased adaptive approach" of regional missile defense now focused on Europe to the western Pacific and the Middle East. To do that, the nation's second highest military officer said, the United States must open its missile defense program to systems developed by its allies, for both cost and deterrence reasons.
The officials spoke at the opening session of the annual missile defense symposium co-sponsored by MDA and aerospace industry groups at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.
Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that the adaptive approach, which the administration announced a year ago to replace the controversial land-based defense of Eastern Europe, now has "broad global support, broad national support and bipartisan support in Congress."
Instead of debating whether to do it, the question now is "how fast can we produce," Cartwright said.
The phased approach intends to provide an interim missile defense using the Aegis-equipped Navy warships and SM-3 missiles, then moving up to improved SM-3s and radars on the ground in eastern or southern Europe. That would be augmented by Patriot and Theater High Altitude Air Defense interceptors and possibly a two-stage version of the silo-based interceptors now used in the U.S. ground-based, mid-course national defense system.
Cartwright, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn and defense acquisition official Ashton Carter all said the system should be applied to the other regions critical to U.S. national security, such as the Pacific and the Middle East.
But Cartwright said for the system to be affordable, it had to be based on open-architecture computer software designs that would allow allies to incorporate their own systems. The international system also would provide a greater deterrence to potential adversaries, such as Iran and North Korea, he said.
Lynn cited the administration's actions to implement the recently released Ballistic Missile Defense Review, including the $9.9 billion for missile defense requested in the fiscal 2011 budget.
Carter pointed out that major components of the missile defense program are coming up for renewal, opening $37 billion in contracts for competition. That includes the overall management of the national missile defense system, which is now run by Boeing Co.
All three denied there was any plan to eliminate MDA, as some senior service officials have advocated. Cartwright said the services now are satisfied with the way technology is transferred from MDA to the combat forces.
In response to questions, Carter and Cartwright said space-based sensors would continue to be important parts of the missile defense, but Cartwright emphasized the need for balance with other systems because of the high cost of space systems. The general also discounted the idea of developing a new interceptor to augment the SM-3 and the national defense missile, suggesting the flat defense budgets expected in the future would not support that.
"Right now, we're on a path that is as much as we can afford," he said.