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Since the Spanish-American War, the United States has had a poor record of preparing against future threats. We cut vital development needed to meet future foes, losing lives and treasure until we wake up from our self-inflicted slumber.
We used to call it short-sightedness. Today we call it sequestration.
The biggest bullies on the planet stating their aims to harm America are Iran, North Korea, and transnational, radical Muslim extremists. While those in the rogue states are launching their tirades, they are also launching real missiles. Transnational radicals become ready allies in this newest way to threaten an America with limited resources.
These ballistic bullies should be the focus of our limited funds.
When Nazi Germany embarked on a new militarism in the 1930s, few could grasp the threat from a country defeated only a decade and a half before. Germany quietly developed its airpower with pilots and technicians trained out of view of the rest of the world. Most of Europe ignored the threat when a vibrant, dangerous air capability arose.
Only Britain had sense to commit a reluctant sliver of funds to nascent radar technology and superior fighter aircraft design. Even prophets such as Winston Churchill could not fathom coastal radar stations and Spitfires becoming the defense of the entire free world when Britain stood alone in the summer of 1940.
In 2009, President Barack Obama declared that Iran possessed technology “capable of reaching Europe.” If our intelligence experts are correct, Iran’s ballistic missiles could follow by 2015. If the president felt this threat was real enough to declare, then policymakers have a moral imperative to correctly identify and back the technologies to meet it.
In the next few years, the missile threat will only grow. Iran and North Korea are pressing a capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S. mainland. Intelligence indicates their cooperation in this effort.
Reports emerged in September that these two countries are now sharing scientists and nuclear and missile technology. If both countries acquire the capacity to reach the United States with missiles, we must have the technology needed to defend against a coordinated attack.
Fortunately, a recent live-fire missile defense test demonstrated our ability to defend against these threats. The system test took place Oct. 26 and marked the most complex missile defense flight test in history.
The test peppered our missile defense capability by throwing five ballistic and cruise missile attacks at it simultaneously. The test employed the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, the Patriot Weapon System, the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance radar (AN/TPY-2 Radar) and the Command, Control, Battle Management and Communications.
These might seem like high-tech duplications, but each plays a vital role in keeping the United States safe from a coordinated attack from abroad. Sadly, many are on the chopping block. Cutting these programs ignores current threats, historical precedent and American safety.
Just look at the AN/TPY-2 Radar — the most advanced mobile radar system in the world. This technology provides extraordinarily precise tracking of ballistic missiles. It can even make nuanced determinations — distinguishing between an actual warhead and a decoy.
Policy hacks have put a halt to the Missile Defense Agency’s purchase of seven more of them. One of the seven cut may survive in the restructured fiscal 2014 budget. Completing it will bring America’s total stock of AN/TPY-2 radars to 12 — a good start, but far fewer than our military commanders have deemed necessary. Congress should safeguard enough funding for the survival of this capability.
This is not defense industry hyperbole. Consider that Iran has not hesitated to develop threatening technologies. Iran recently paraded a new system designed to combat American fighter jets, drones, helicopters and cruise missiles.
Earlier this month, it is likely that Iran conducted a test against one of our drones. At about the same time, Iranian-backed Hamas was launching deadly attacks against innocents in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, forcing retaliation strikes against suspected missile sites in Gaza. The future threat is clear.
Ten years from now, we can only hope that we can reflect on how policymakers took the risk, curbed the urge of wasteful entitlement spending and carved out a sliver for the missile defense programs that saved thousands of American lives.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell was involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein and is the author of “We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein.” He is an infantry veteran of Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, a military analyst for Concerned Veterans for America and served as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the Oklahoma Senate.