Democrats Know Missile Defense

Posted May 16, 2008 at 11:03am

To hear “anything and everything for missile defense” advocates bemoan funding for missile defense, which is at record high levels, you would think that Democrats do not support a strong missile defense program. The truth is quite the opposite. In fact, most of my Democratic colleagues voted for the National Missile Defense Act of 1999, announcing their commitment to deploy “an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.”

My subcommittee and many of my colleagues are fully committed to building a sensible, cost-effective missile defense system that will defend our nation, our allies and the men and women of our armed services deployed abroad from the current and real threats that we face.

The Bush administration, while spending heavily on missile defense, has shown a misplaced commitment to long-term, future threats. Democrats are working in a bipartisan way to reorient the missile defense programs in three important ways. First, we are focusing on the current threat posed by short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. The threat of ballistic missiles cannot be ignored. Iran is believed to have already deployed a number of medium- and short-range missiles capable of hitting our allies in the Middle East and Europe and our troops in the field. This is in addition to what some believe to be an active long-range missile program. North Korea possesses large numbers of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles that can target U.S. deployed forces and allies in the Asia-Pacific region, and the nation is developing a longer-range missile that could potentially hit parts of the United States. These are just the two most notable threats; all current threats must be treated with equal consideration.

Second, we are pursuing more robust testing so we can be confident that we are deploying defensive systems that work. Finally, we are subjecting the missile defense program to the same oversight and accountability standards as the rest of the Department of Defense. Structuring our missile defense programs in this fashion is the only way to match our investments with the real threats that we face.

As Congress begins its deliberations on the fiscal 2009 Defense authorization and appropriations bills, the question should not be “yes or no” to missile defense, but instead, how do we properly structure missile defense programs to best protect the United States?

It is my continued belief that the wisest step we can take is to focus our resources on countering the threat from short- and medium-range ballistic missiles by investing in near-term platforms. In order to do this, my subcommittee has made regional missile defense platforms, such as Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and Patriot PAC-3, a top funding priority.

Congressional Democrats are not alone in our support for these platforms. In testimony before Congress last year, Gen. James Cartwright, the former commander of the U.S. Strategic Command and current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his focus is on expanding our missile defense system “beyond long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, to start to address those that hold at threat our forward deployed forces, our allies and our friends. Those are more in the short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, things that Patriot, Standard Missile-2 and -3 will be able to address, and THAAD as it comes on.”

Over the next five years, the Department of Defense plans to ask Congress for more than $46 billion on missile defense. It must become universally understood that properly balancing missile defense priorities means listening to combatant commanders and recognizing their needs instead of investing in “faith-based” programs with little or no immediate benefit to our security.

Our missile defense portfolio should not only be more balanced toward current threats, but tested as well. Last year, the Missile Defense Agency had some positive testing results including a successful intercept with the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System and several THAAD and Aegis BMD intercept tests. These are real successes that the agency can build on; however, significant challenges remain within the testing program.

The fact remains that since 2002, the GMD system has only conducted two successful intercept tests, making it very difficult to assess the overall capability and effectiveness of the system. The director of operational test and evaluation has raised similar concerns. In the February 2008 annual report to Congress, the DOT&E stated: “additional flight testing under realistic conditions is necessary to validate models and simulations, and to increase confidence in these models to accurately assess system capability.” Furthermore, I was greatly disturbed to learn the MDA has canceled its next planned GMD test because of technical challenges. Such a testing regimen is simply incompatible with the administration’s aggressive deployment plans. Congress and the American people need to know that these systems work before we put taxpayer dollars behind them.

In its fiscal 2009 budget request, the Defense Department requested $712 million to expand the GMD system to Europe — a 216 percent increase over the 2008 funding level. I strongly support working with our NATO allies to counter the shared ballistic missile threats we face. But before we can accept this aggressive funding proposal, we must have greater confidence in the GMD system overall. Additionally, we must have approval from the host nations so that there is an assurance our allies understand the platform and its capabilities. At this point, I am not convinced that we are where we need to be with regard to the testing of the GMD system, and we have not even begun to test the proposed European system. Consequently, I believe Congress should continue its efforts to improve this element of the missile defense program before making any long-term commitments.

None of this funding will be effective if it is not matched by an equal amount of oversight. In 2002 the secretary of Defense granted the MDA an extraordinary amount of flexibility to deploy an initial missile defense system for the United States, exempting it from the normal DOD acquisition and requirements process. Some, including myself and the Government Accountability Office, have argued that this flexibility has come at the price of oversight and accountability. These programs are far too costly, and far too critical to our national security, to not have institutional and Congressional checks that ensure that they stay true to their goals.

Last summer, senior military leadership at the Pentagon raised concerns about departmental practices with regard to missile defense. In a July 26, 2007, memo, Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chairman of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, recommended transitioning MDA back to JROC oversight to ensure that the agency’s activities are synchronized with overall Defense Department planning efforts. Rather than implement this proposal, the department established a new senior-level group, the Missile Defense Executive Board, last year to improve oversight and to ensure MDA’s plans are better integrated with overall DOD efforts. Establishing the MDEB looks like a step in the right direction, but it is too early to judge whether the body will be able to address past oversight deficiencies identified by the GAO and the JROC. I plan to follow the MDEB’s activities closely, and I will be prepared to take legislative action if the board fails to meet its objectives, as previous oversight bodies did.

The majority of Congressional Democrats believe that effective missile defenses are vital to the security of the United States, our deployed forces and our allies. We continue to support funding for the right missile defense platforms. We will also continue to demand that our combatant commanders receive the right capabilities to meet the real threats that we face, that those capabilities are thoroughly tested and that the program is fully accountable to our war fighters and to the Congress. Building a credible missile defense portfolio cannot be about blindly rubber-stamping billions of dollars in edgy science projects. We must end the trend of deploying systems that are not thoroughly tested. Instead, it must be about recognizing what the real threats to our security are and deploying the right type of defenses to protect us today.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) is chairwoman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.