Gates makes the case for shift in missile-defense policy

GATES MAKES THE CASE FOR SHIFT IN MISSILE-DEFENSE POLICY…. When President Obama scrapped Bush’s plans for ground-based interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic, the decision was the culmination of a six-month review process. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that a shift in America’s missile-defense plans made sense.

The right, of course, isn’t happy. Some of the pushback is coming from neo-cons, upset about the “signal” it sends when the U.S. bases foreign policy decisions on common sense, and some is coming from partisans who find it entertaining to throw around the word “appeasement” for no apparent reason.

As part of an effort to set the record straight, Gates has an op-ed in the NYT today, which does a nice job of setting the record straight.

For one thing, conservative criticism makes it seem as if strategic missile defense in Europe is somehow being gutted. In reality, it’s currently non-existent. Bush’s plan was to introduce missile defense to region, probably by 2017, perhaps later. Under Obama’s plan, the U.S. will bring missile defense technology to Europe by 2011

In the first phase, to be completed by 2011, we will deploy proven, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles — weapons that are growing in capability — in the areas where we see the greatest threat to Europe.

The second phase, which will become operational around 2015, will involve putting upgraded SM-3s on the ground in Southern and Central Europe. All told, every phase of this plan will include scores of SM-3 missiles, as opposed to the old plan of just 10 ground-based interceptors. This will be a far more effective defense should an enemy fire many missiles simultaneously — the kind of attack most likely to occur as Iran continues to build and deploy numerous short- and medium-range weapons. At the same time, plans to defend virtually all of Europe and enhance the missile defense of the United States will continue on about the same schedule as the earlier plan as we build this system over time, creating an increasingly greater zone of protection.

Steady technological advances in our missile defense program — from kill vehicles to the abilities to network radars and sensors — give us confidence in this plan. The SM-3 has had eight successful tests since 2007, and we will continue to develop it to give it the capacity to intercept long-range missiles like ICBMs. It is now more than able to deal with the threat from multiple short- and medium-range missiles — a very real threat to our allies and some 80,000 American troops based in Europe that was not addressed by the previous plan. Even so, our military will continue research and development on a two-stage ground-based interceptor, the kind that was planned to be put in Poland, as a back-up.

Moreover, a fixed radar site like the one previously envisioned for the Czech Republic would be far less adaptable than the airborne, space- and ground-based sensors we now plan to use. These systems provide much more accurate data, offer more early warning and tracking options, and have stronger networking capacity — a key factor in any system that relies on partner countries. This system can also better use radars that are already operating across the globe, like updated cold war-era installations, our newer arrays based on high-powered X-band radar, allied systems and possibly even Russian radars.

A more effective anti-missile technology, with a better track record, and more flexibility, implemented sooner.

“Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting what we are doing,” Gates added.

It need not be an either/or situation.