he rumble of underground nuclear tests and a rapidly escalating arms race between India and Pakistan have once again raised the specter of nuclear war in a world that had worked most of the past decade to exorcise that 20th century demon. The emergence of two newly declared nuclear states with long-range missile capability also focused renewed attention on the United States' ability to defend against missile attacks.
"We're hearing the thunder now," Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., said during debate on a Senate bill that would mandate the deployment of a nationwide missile defense system. "We're reminded that some countries are more clever than we gave them credit for."
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., co-sponsored the bipartisan bill that would require deploying a defense system against incoming long-range missiles as soon as "technologically possible." The bill failed to advance in the Senate by a vote of 51-49. "This administration is taking a wait-and-see attitude-wait and see if there's a threat. The fact is, the threat exists now," Cochran said. "You sense that people are disturbed and alarmed about the developments going on around the world. It's a dangerous situation, and it needs our attention."
Few dispute that the danger from missile attack is growing. According to a recent Defense Department report, 20 nations possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction, and more than 20 nations have theater ballistic missiles or cruise missiles.
Citing intelligence reports, however, the Clinton administration believes that a new threat to the United States from a rogue ballistic missile attack is not likely to emerge for several years, while the threat to deployed U.S. military forces and regional allies from shorter-range missiles exists today. The administration favors a program of continued development of a national missile defense system without making a decision to deploy before 2000 at the earliest, while focusing the lion's share of resources on theater ballistic missile defense and cruise missile defense.
A number of independent assessments of national missile defense programs-and the continued failures of missiles attempting the less demanding task of intercepting shorter-range missiles-argue for this more deliberate approach. A report in March by an independent panel of experts appointed by the Pentagon, for instance, chided program managers for "underestimating hit-to-kill intercepts" that are fundamental to both national and theater missile defense systems.
Theater Missile Defense
When a booster rocket failed in a May test of the Army's Theater High-Altitude Area Defense program (THAAD), sending the interceptor careening out of control over the New Mexico desert, it symbolized the frustrations of the Pentagon's quest for a reliable anti-missile defense system. The failure was the fifth consecutive miss for THAAD and a costly embarrassment for the Pentagon and prime contractor Lockheed Martin.
THAAD is a land-based, relatively long-range missile interceptor designed to provide troops with an "upper tier" defense against short-range missiles. It is the costliest program in the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) budget. The administration's fiscal 1999 request of $822 million for THAAD marks a substantial funding increase from fiscal 1998, when only $391 million was provided for the program.
"We will continue to test the program until we get it right," DoD spokesman Ken Bacon said after the fifth THAAD failure. "It's a complex program-everyone realizes this."
Other upper-tier systems designed to defend larger areas include the Navy's Theater Wide program, deployed aboard ships, which did not fare as well in the administration's request. But the program is a favorite of Congress, which added $215 million to the administration's 1998 request of $195 million. For fiscal 1999, the Pentagon requested $190 million for continued development of the system.
So-called "lower tier" systems designed to defeat shorter-range ballistic and cruise missiles closer to the ground also remain a top priority. The administration's fiscal 1999 request includes $481 million for procurement of the Army's Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missile (follow-on to the Patriot batteries made famous during the Persian Gulf War) and $289 million for the Navy Area lower-tier system deployed aboard Aegis ships. The United States is also pursuing a follow-on, highly mobile lower-tier system called the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), with international partners Germany and Italy. In its fiscal 1999 defense authorization, the House National Security Committee committed $43 million to the MEADS program if it remains in the administration's plans.
National Missile Defense
Defense Secretary William Cohen is living up to his promise during the debate over last year's Quadrennial Defense Review to spend an extra $2 billion over the next five years to develop a national missile defense shield. The concept settled upon will give the administration until 2000 to decide whether the emerging missile threat warrants deploying a system by 2003.
To meet that timetable, the Pentagon amended its 1998 request, adding $474 million to the $504 million originally requested. The administration added another $557 million in fiscal 1999 over what was anticipated for the program in last year's plan.
Even with the advanced schedule and extra spending, administration plans seem unlikely to appease congressional Republicans, who have made fielding a national missile defense shield a defining issue ever since it was included in the 1994 Contract with America. Already this year, the House National Security Committee has authorized $46.5 million in fiscal 1999 spending for atmospheric interceptor technology, $22 million more than the administration's request.
"According to the administration's defense plan, BMDO research and development accounts will reach their lowest levels in two decades in fiscal 2003," wrote Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., chairman of the committee. "These low funding levels reflect the administration's unwillingness to invest in the development of the next-generation missile defense technologies."
In the realm of tactical missiles, the Army in fiscal 1999 requested $346.3 million for its Longbow Hellfire Missile, a fire-and-forget, all-weather missile designed for the Apache and Comanche helicopters and produced by a Lockheed Martin-Northrop Grumman joint venture. The service also requested $330 million for the Javelin Advanced Antitank Weapon System-Medium (AAWS-M), a portable fire-and-forget missile designed to destroy tanks and other armored systems, and built by a Raytheon-Lockheed Martin joint venture. The Marine Corps also requested $83.5 million in fiscal 1999 for purchasing the Javelin AAWS-M.
The Navy's largest missile program, at $385.6 million for 1999, is the Trident II (D-5) submarine-launched ballistic missile. A strategic nuclear missile built by Lockheed Martin, the D-5 has greater range, payload and accuracy than the Trident I. The service's next-largest missile program, at $237.6 million, is the Standard family of surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles for Navy cruisers, destroyers and guided missile frigates. Raytheon is the prime contractor on the Standard program.
The Navy has requested $199.7 million in fiscal 1999 to purchase additional Tomahawk cruise missiles, also produced by Raytheon. The Tomahawk can be armed with nuclear or conventional warheads.
The Pentagon also requested $234.4 million in fiscal 1999 to purchase another Raytheon product, Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), for Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. The AMRAAM is an all-weather, radar-guided missile designed to destroy enemy aircraft despite electronic countermeasures. The Air Force and Navy also have teamed to request $265.9 million for the Joint Standoff Weapon built by Texas Instruments, and $135 million for the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, a precision-guided cruise missile built by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.