Commentary Magazine


“Not a Forever Decision,” on Missile Defense

Here’s an overdetermined headline if ever there was one: “U.S. missile-defense salvage operations under way.”

In the wake of rising threats from North Korea, U.S. defense contractors are making the case to revisit some of the billion dollar missile defense programs cut by Defense Aecretary Robert Gates.

Northrop Grumman Corp, for instance, is calling on the Defense Department to rescind a stop work order and carry out a major flight test of its Kinetic Energy Interceptor.

Once valued at $6 billion, KEI is intended to shoot down enemy missiles soon after they are launched. Its “booster flight test” had been scheduled for September. But Gates said the system had very limited capability, cost too much and would have to be fired from what he suggested was perilously close to the target.

But, of course, it’s starting to look like the peril lies in being too far away from the target — that is, in giving rogue states so much breathing room. Note how dated the cuts now sound:

Gates also would terminate Lockheed Martin Corp’s Multiple Kill Vehicle, or MKV, on the grounds it was not needed for the limited threat posed by countries such as Iran and North Korea “for the next 10 to 15 years.”

It is fair to say the “limited threat” has become more acute during the months since Gates announced the cuts. The next 10 to 15 years now feels like a time-frame almost too foreboding to ponder, given Kim’s fresh threat of a “merciless” nuclear “offensive.” President Obama seems to know when to defer to the Pentagon and Gates is, of course, not blind to the implications of recent rumblings in the Pacific:

Gates toured the [Lockheed Martin] missile-defense complex at Fort Greely on June 1, after North Korea carried out its second underground nuclear test and test-fired a barrage of short-range missiles notwithstanding international pressure not to do so.

Halting the expansion of the base’s anti-missile silos, he said, was “not a forever decision.”

Few decisions are these days.

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