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DoD Official: Rudimentary Missile Defense System in Place

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2006 – The United States now has a rudimentary missile defense system in place, a senior defense official told the Senate's strategic forces subcommittee here April 4.

"The United States today has all the pieces in place needed to intercept an incoming long-range ballistic missile: ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California; a network of ground-, sea- and space-based sensors; a command-and-control network; and, most importantly, trained servicemen and women ready to operate the system, Peter C.W. Flory, assistant defense secretary for international security policy, said in prepared testimony.

The system is still aimed primarily at development and testing, but the capability does exist, he said. Ballistic missile defenses are not as capable today as they will be in the future, Flory said. The system in place is an initial capability.

The program aims at a "spiral" development of the capability. Flory said the program will continue to evolve and continue to gain capability. This is important because the threat is growing, he said. "In 1990, around the end of the Cold War, 16 countries possessed ballistic missiles of varying ranges," he said. "In 2006, 25 countries have them."

Countries with missiles capable of hitting allies or the U.S. homeland have grown from five to nine. Combine the missile threat with the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and the United States has a severe problem, Flory said.

North Korea has announced that it developed atomic weapons, and a DoD assessment of North Korea says Pyongyang is developing intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missiles. "For over 50 years, U.S. servicemembers have stood on the border between North and South Korea, Flory said. "We have known that if North Korea decided to attack the South, these men and women would immediately be in harm's way. The prospect of long-range ballistic missiles in the hands of the North means that, for the first time, the American people, too, would be in harm's way."

North Korea isn't the United States' only concern regarding ballistic missiles. The State Department has labeled Iran as the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism. "The danger that (Iran) will acquire a nuclear weapon and the ability to integrate it with the ballistic missiles (it) already possesses is a reason for immediate concern," John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, said in congressional testimony in February.

President Bush directed that the United States build a missile defense program to assure allies that no country can use the threat of attack on the United States as blackmail. The program dissuades potential adversaries from investing in ballistic missiles by reducing the effectiveness of such weapons, Flory said. The defenses deter attacks by reducing confidence in the success of any attack, and it is designed to defeat missile attacks in the event deterrence fails, he said.

Flory said many have questioned the wisdom of investing in missile defense in a post-Sept. 11 world. "I would turn that argument around somewhat," he said. "One of the lessons of Sept. 11 is that nothing is unthinkable. The United States must and can prepare to defend itself against the widest range of threats possible. Leaving ourselves vulnerable to a type of attack will only increase the likelihood that an adversary will exploit that vulnerability to threaten or attack us."

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Peter C.W. Flory

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