Battle Royal Over Missile Defense

By James Kitfield

August 15, 1996

Ever since resurgent congressional Republicans pledged to resurrect Ronald Reagan's anti-missile shield for the United States as part of their "Contract with America," the issue has been at the center of a contentious tug-of-war between the Clinton Administration and Congress. The debate over when and how to deploy a national missile defense system was a central factor in provoking a Presidential veto of the fiscal 1996 Defense authorization bill. The give-and-take over the issue has also revealed deep fissures on such fundamental issues as arms control, the veracity of intelligence estimates on the emerging threat from ballistic missiles and the importance of protecting American cities from a distant threat versus shielding U.S. troops tomorrow.

"Missile defense is obviously a controversial issue, and the adequacy of our program depends on who you ask in Congress," said a senior DoD official earlier this year in a briefing on the fiscal 1997 Defense budget. "Some people won't be satisfied on one side, and some won't be satisfied on the other. Hopefully, some people will be satisfied by what we think is a solid program."

The controversy over the issue of a national missile defense shield was evident throughout the battle over the fiscal 1996 Defense budget. Citing intelligence reports predicting an additional ballistic missile threat to the United States will not emerge for nearly another decade, the Clinton Administration has focused on deploying a more focused theater-missile defense system to protect U.S. troops. Of the $2.9 billion the Administration requested for ballistic missile defense funding in 1996, only $371 million was designated for a national missile defense system.

Questioning the accuracy of these intelligence estimates, Congress authorized $3.5 billion for missile defense in fiscal 1996, increasing the amount devoted to a national system to $821 million. Language was also included in the legislation committing the United States to developing and deploying a multiple-site, national missile defense system by 2003. Such a system would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, and call into question Russia's ratification of the START II treaty.

After Clinton vetoed the Defense authorization bill containing the missile-defense provisions, Congress removed the language committing the United States to deployment of the multi-site system on a specific date. For its part, the Clinton Administration agreed to spend the full $821 million for national missile defense, an increase of $450 million over its request.

In the fiscal 1997 Defense budget request, the Defense Department proposes spending $500 million on a national missile defense system, with an additional $1.6 billion devoted to the program by 2001. The goal would be a system that could be mature enough for a deployment decision by 1999.

"Our assessment is that we do not now have a threat requiring a national missile defense system, but that one could emerge," Secretary of Defense William Perry told defense reporters recently. "This budget continues research and development at such a pace that in three years we could make a deployment decision, based on the geo-political situation at that time and our views of the best technology. If we do decide to deploy, however, there would have to be funding added to the budget to accommodate it. "

According to the Congressional Budget Office, a national missile defense system such as that envisioned by House Republicans would cost at least $29 billion. That would pay for a single-site system involving up to 100 missile interceptors, ground-based radar and roughly 28 Brilliant Eyes space-based sensors. Deploying five more sites, as proposed as an earlier amendment to the ABM treaty by former President Bush, would cost an additional $19 billion. The Pentagon is also studying less costly approaches.

House and Senate Republicans are expected to add $1 billion to DoD's request for missile defense work in the fiscal 1997 Defense authorization bill, and Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole has called for deployment of a national missile defense system by 2003.

Theater Missile Defense

The Pentagon has begun setting priorities between a number of near-and mid-term developmental systems to fill the need for theater missile defense of U.S. troops from Scud-like missiles. The fiscal 1997 budget includes $600 million for the PAC-3, a third-generation Patriot-type missile system with an extended range interceptor developed by fourth-ranked missile contractor Loral Corp. DoD's defense plan for future years calls for buying 535 PAC-3 systems at a further cost of $1.9 billion by 2001.

DoD officials have also requested $300 million in fiscal 1997 for a Navy Lower Tier system that takes advantage of the Aegis radar system now fielded with Standard surface-to-air missiles. The developmental program calls for upgrading the Standard missile with additional sensors and software. The plan envisions spending an additional $1.2 billion on the Navy Lower Tier system.

The Army's midterm Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) program, a longer-range system designed to protect a greater area and larger facilities and troop formations, would receive $500 million in fiscal 1997 under DoD's request. The program is already well under way, with No. 1 ranked missile contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. having tested its interceptor successfully last year. As part of the Navy Upper Tier program, the service hopes to integrate an improved version of its Standard missile built by third-ranked Raytheon for use from vertical launchers onboard Aegis ships. In legislation passed into law last year, Congress directed the Pentagon to deploy the PAC-3 by 1998, Navy Lower Tier by 1999, THAAD by 2000, and Navy Upper Tier by 2001.

"Our budget highlights two different thrusts in theater missile defense," says Defense Secretary Perry. "First is accelerated deployment of the evolutionary systems, which are the PAC-3 ground-based system and the Standard missile on the Aegis, because the threat is here and now and our commanders have requested this capability. The second thrust is deliberate deployment of next generation systems, which are the Navy theater-wide system and the THAAD, both of which will offer substantial improvements in capability. We have $10 billion in [our plans] for these theater missile systems, and only $2 billion for National Missile Defense. So you can see a substantial emphasis on the theater side of the equation."

Air Launched Missiles

Hopes of developing a new precision-guided, long-range cruise missile for delivery from both fighters and bombers now resides in the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) program, a joint Air Force and Navy program that is being led by the Air Force. This program follows in the wake of the troubled Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile program, which was terminated last year. The fiscal 1997 budget includes $199 million for initial research and development of the JASSM, with competitive selection of two contractors for a 24-month development program now under way.

The Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) is another joint development between the Air Force and Navy. The precision-guided air-to-surface weapon is designed to provide an all-weather, day-or-night weapon that can be delivered from a survivable standoff range. The fiscal 1997 budget provides $182.3 million for the program, including $72.5 million for the procurement of 100 missiles. JSOW will come in three variants, all developed by prime contractor and fifth-ranked Texas Instruments Inc.

For a medium-range air-to-air missile, the Air Force continues to buy the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), a joint Air Force and Navy program whose prime contractors are Hughes Missile Systems Co., a division of second-ranked General Motors, and third-ranked Raytheon Co. The fiscal 1997 budget request includes $187.2 million for the program, including $159 million for procurement of 170 missiles. The AMRAAM is designed to provide fire-and-forget capability against multiple enemy targets in an electronic countermeasures environment.

To arm its Apache attack helicopters with a fire-and-forget capability, the Army has requested $250 million in fiscal 1997 to buy additional Longbow Hellfire missiles. Designed for launch from an AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopter, the missile contains a millimeter-wave radar seeker. A joint industry venture was established for the program of 1st-ranked Lockheed Martin Corp, and 18th-ranked Westinghouse Electric Corp. The Army has also requested $108 million for the Hellfire II missile built by Hellfire Systems, a venture between Lockheed Martin and 9th-ranked Rockwell International. The Hellfire II can be launched from all Army attack helicopters and the Marine Corps' AH-1W Cobras.

By James Kitfield

August 15, 1996