War Showcases Missile Systems


Periods of war and strife often have reshaped the way Americans view national security, shaking them out of complacency and dramatically changing the normal cycle of weapons procurement. So it was this year, as two major news events galvanized opinion in Washington behind major increases in spending and production of strategic and tactical missile systems.

When the long-anticipated House report on Chinese spying at U.S. nuclear weapons labs-spearheaded by Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif.-was released in May, it stunned many lawmakers. The Cox report concluded that China had stolen crucial design information covering the entire arsenal of U.S. nuclear warheads, possibly permitting that nation and others to leap ahead decades in fielding the next generation of nuclear missiles. Congress responded by passing legislation committing the United States to an expedited schedule for fielding a national missile defense system, adding $400 million to the effort in fiscal 2000 alone.

The prolonged air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, meanwhile, revealed dangerous shortages in stockpiles of the precision-guided missiles and munitions on which the United States has come to rely so heavily. The shortages were so acute in certain munitions that the Pentagon feared running out of cruise missiles and satellite-guided bombs, ordering a crash program to convert nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to conventional configurations and a tenfold increase in production of the conventional Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), which is carried by B-2 bombers.

"After Operations Desert Fox in Iraq and Allied Force in Yugoslavia, we found we didn't have many CALCMs [conventional air launched cruise missiles] left, and we had to be very judicious in their use," Air Force Gen. Richard Hawley, until recently the commander of the Air Combat Command, said in an interview with defense reporters. "As for the JDAM, that munition has been a great success with the B-2 bomber, but because it is a new weapon we were still in a low rate of production. We didn't have a robust inventory. So we decided to accelerate production because it was really touch and go whether we would run out of JDAMs."

National Missile Defense

In May, Congress continued to pressure the Clinton administration to more ardently embrace a national missile defense system. By a vote of 345-71, the House adopted the Senate's version of the National Missile Defense Act, making it the "policy of the United States to deploy as soon as technologically possible an effective national missile defense capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized or deliberate)."

The non-binding resolution came amid the furor created by the Cox report, and as the Clinton administration was preparing for a June 2000 decision on whether to deploy a land-based missile defense system capable of defending against a limited ballistic missile attack by 2005.

"China's use of U.S. technology to improve its missile forces more rapidly now requires that the Clinton administration commit to an earliest possible deployment of effective national and theater missile defense systems," wrote Richard Fisher Jr., director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. "Although China does not pose a threat like that of the former Soviet Union, the Cox Commission provides an essential warning of China's potential future hostile intent toward the United States and its friends in Asia."

On a related front, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continued to pressure the Clinton administration to submit proposed modifications to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty-which severely limits missile defenses-to the Senate for ratification. Helms views the ABM Treaty as an impediment to fielding an effective national missile defense system and wants to scrap the entire treaty. He specifically rejects Clinton administration plans to add three former Soviet republics to the treaty with Russia: Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. "I shall do everything within my power to ensure that the ABM Treaty is never resurrected or reconstituted, regardless whether the President proposes one other party to the treaty or 20," Helms said.

The Clinton administration's fiscal 2000 budget request includes substantial new resources for missile systems, increasing national missile defense funding by $6.6 billion over the next six years. The increase marked a turning point for the administration, which had in the past focused primarily on developing theater missile defenses. Such systems are designed to protect troops against shorter-range missiles, such as the Iraqi Scuds used against U.S. forces during the Persian Gulf War. Recent test-firings of long-range missiles by both Iran and North Korea highlighted the growing threat posed by ballistic missiles.

"We are affirming that there's a [missile] threat, that the threat is growing and that it will pose a danger not only to our troops overseas but also to Americans here at home," Defense Secretary William Cohen testified about the increase.

Total national missile defense funding for fiscal 1999 to 2005 is projected to be $10.5 billion, which includes money for deployment in about 2005. Of the $6.6 billion in new funds, $800 million is provided from a fiscal 1999 emergency supplemental for ballistic missile defense.

Despite having invested roughly $110 billion in anti-missile research programs since the 1980s, however, the problems plaguing the effort are substantial. For instance, the Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile, the most advanced interceptor the Pentagon is testing, had failed in six out of six firings before scoring a desperately needed hit in a June 1999 test. The THAAD system has cost $3.8 billion to date.

Similar "exo-atmospheric" missile defense systems have failed 14 out of 16 tests, with the General Accounting Office declaring that the two earlier test "successes" had been manipulated to ensure hits. In a blistering Pentagon-commissioned report in 1997, retired Air Force Gen. Larry Welch concluded that overly aggressive testing schedules and poor management had led to a "rush to failure" on the anti-missile defense programs.

Congressional proponents remain undeterred by the spotty test results. In the fiscal 2000 Defense budget, for example, the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee added $200 million in an effort to further accelerate the national missile defense program and allow for fielding in 2003 instead of 2005.

Members of Congress have also indicated that they want the Pentagon to try to field both THAAD and the Navy's Theater Wide defense system. Officials at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization had planned to fully fund both programs only through 2001, when it would have selected one system to field while the second would have been kept alive at much lower funding levels. Compared to last year's budget request, funding for Navy Theater Wide has been increased by more than $500 million in the fiscal 1999-2001 time frame.

The fiscal 2000 budget also requests $48.6 million in funding for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a cooperative development program of the United States, Germany and Italy. In May, those nations selected a team led by Lockheed Martin over a rival group headed by Raytheon as the MEADS contractor. As presently configured, the United States is bearing 55 percent of the MEADS development costs, with Germany putting up 28 percent and Italy 17 percent. The U.S. Army plans to use MEADS as a mobile defense for its deployed forces, while Germany and Italy expect the system to serve also as a national missile defense against ballistic and cruise missile attack.

Lower-tier systems remain the top priority to defeat short-range ballistic missiles, including the Army's Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and the Navy Area Defense systems. The fiscal 2000 budget requests $189.1 million for the PAC-3 and $268.4 million for the Navy Area Defense system.

Tactical Missiles

Air Force officials made headlines earlier this year when, following major U.S. air attacks against Iraq and Yugoslavia, they confirmed that the U.S. stockpile of conventional cruise missiles was running dangerously low. Though munitions stocks normally are classified, officials felt they had to raise the alarm to ensure emergency supplemental funding for converting more nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to conventional configurations. In just the first two days of Operation Desert Fox, for instance, U.S. military forces reportedly fired 90 CALCMs, the obvious big stick of choice in what has been termed "cruise missile diplomacy."

"We have 322 [nuclear] Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMS) available for conversion, and I fully expect that we'll receive funding for that conversion later this year. That will replenish in large measure the cruise missiles we fired in Operation Desert Fox and Operation Allied Force," said Gen. Hawley. "Those extra missiles will provide a bridge until we are able to deploy the next-generation Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile sometime around 2002."

Air Force officials say the new CALCMs are likely to be built on the same production line that is being used to convert nuclear-armed ALCMS, but building in the added production capability will cost approximately $300 million on top of the roughly $600,000 for each converted missile. The range of the converted missiles will be improved from roughly 600 miles to more than 1,000 miles, however, with the addition of a new avionics package and a lighter, more efficient engine. The long-range CALCMs are seen as critical to extending the lifetime of the aging B-52 bomber, a slow and easily detectable workhorse that can launch missiles from safe distances.

As a result of their successful use in Operation Allied Force, the Air Force also is facing a critical shortage of the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) built by Boeing. The service has launched an effort to accelerate production of JDAM by more than 10 times the current production of roughly 100 per month.

Because the Pentagon plans on using the precision-guided munition on the B-2, B-1, F-16 and F-18 aircraft, officials would like to see production eventually increased to roughly 1,200 to 1,500 per month. In the fiscal 2000 budget, the Pentagon already had requested $125.6 million for 5,410 JDAMs. That number is expected to increase to 10,404 in 2001 at a cost of $240.8 million.

"As the expenditure rate we were seeing during Operation Allied Force, it was really touch and go as to whether we would 'go Winchester' [run out of] on JDAMs before we received the next delivery," said Gen. Hawley. "That's why we accelerated production. The JDAM has been a tremendous success."

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