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Glaeser: The Right Approach to Missile Defense

Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress that China is assisting North Korea with its missile program. The secretarys admission came on the heels of the hermit nations internationally condemned test rocket launch.

Though the test launch failed, North Korea has promised that more tests including a nuclear one are to come. Its therefore vital that the United States, in coordination with other developed powers, maintain defenses capable of protecting against the very real threat of a missile strike.

Fortunately, America has programs in place including the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System that can do just that.

But todays economic realities have caused some to question whether we can afford such sophisticated systems or whether missiles from rogue states even pose a threat.

Such thinking is naive.

Thirty-two countries have ballistic missiles. Nine have nuclear capabilities. Most dont have weapons advanced enough to hit America yet.

Many, including North Korea and Iran, are working hard to develop some.

Todays rogue nations have no interest in conventional warfare with America.

The challenge, consequently, is maintaining missile defense systems that are effective, proven and financially prudent. The allied worlds response to North Koreas launch serves as a case study in what such a system should look like.

Japan sent seven Patriot PAC-3 missile batteries to the region and set up a Patriot battery at the Defense Ministry compound in the heart of downtown Tokyo. South Korea also deployed Patriot missile batteries in strategic locations. And the United States positioned ship-borne SM-3 interceptor missiles to destroy the rocket, with Patriot batteries standing by if needed.

Obviously, the Patriot system serves a vital role in international security. Its been the first line of defense against missile attack for decades. Patriot is particularly effective against ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial systems and enemy aircraft.

The Patriot system continues to serve this vital role because its continually upgraded. As retired Army Lt. Gen. Donald Lionetti has explained, the new and upgraded Patriot systems incorporate the latest technologies to defeat the threat as it grows and emerges.

When Patriot was first introduced, soldiers controlled it by pressing switches in front of cathode ray tube monitors the old-fashioned computer screens with black backgrounds and green text. Today, Patriot is operated with touch-screen, high-definition computer monitors.

Patriot has also evolved to defend urban centers a fact that I and hundreds of thousands of allies have witnessed firsthand.

I served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In March 2003, an Iraqi missile was launched against the American headquarters in Kuwait. A Patriot battery was able to quickly target and destroy the enemy missile, protecting the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians.

Building a brand-new missile system is expensive. Upgrading existing Patriot systems is more economical. Patriot has the confidence of thousands of flight tests and combat experience behind it and can be bolstered with modern technologies as they mature.

Thats the strategy the United States and our allies should follow when developing missile defense for the 21st century. It makes financial sense to build upon existing, proven frameworks rather than spending billions of dollars on new systems that are untested and could prove ineffective.

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