Missile Defense System Protects United States, Allies
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2007 The United States has been fielding a missile defense system aimed toward defending itself, its deployed forces and its allies against emerging threats, a top military official said today.
“We initially turned our attention to North Korea, because we felt that that had the higher sense of urgency, and we believe that that was somewhat justified by the activities last summer,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. “Trey” Obering III, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, referring to North Korea’s July 2006 missile tests.
“We have since begun to turn our attention to Iran, as well,” he told reporters at a State Department foreign press briefing here on missile defense and Europe.
Obering said he’s briefed the NATO-Russia Council and has opened discussions with German, French and Ukrainian officials in their respective European capitals. Talks with the Czech Republic and Poland are ongoing, and visits to Spain, Turkey, Greece and Hungary to discuss missile defense issues will take place in coming weeks, he said.
During these discussions, Obering said has been asked several recurring questions.
“I get asked, ‘Well, first of all, doesn't this upset the balance that we've achieved in the past between deterrence? And what about arms control? Doesn't this contradict arms control measures?’” he said.
Obering said he reminds European officials that missile defense is part of a spectrum.
“It's part of an entire toolbox that we try to use to address the ballistic missile threat,” he said. “At one end of that spectrum you have deterrence, and we believe that that is still a very viable concept.
“We also believe, though, that we may come into contact with nation-states or non-state actors that are not deterrable, that are not affected by arms control measures,” he continued. “And when you have warheads flying in the air, it is a moral obligation to do something about that for the population (rather) than turning around and just saying, ‘Sorry, we can't do anything about that.’”
Obering said ballistic missiles, which have proliferated for many years around the world, would be made less valuable by a global missile defense system.
“If you begin to deploy defensive capabilities to where you can negate these missiles, it begins to devalue them … to the nations or to the organizations (that have them), because we believe we can render them ineffective,” he said.
Obering emphasized that missile defense weapons are “defensive assets.”
“These are not offensive missiles. They do not even carry warheads. There are no explosives on these missiles,” he said. “We operate on a hit-to-kill technology, which is we actually drive a very small kill vehicle into an enemy warhead to destroy it.”
This method is effective, Obering said, because the missiles used are so small and fast, they destroy enemy warheads with kinetic energy. “In fact, the kill vehicles that we're talking about that would be placed on the interceptors in Poland are no more than about 70 to 75 kilograms,” he said.
Listing the system’s recent benchmarks, Obering said that since 2001, the United States has had 24 successful hit-to-kill intercepts in about 32 attempts, including about 15 consecutive successful intercepts, over roughly the past two and a half years.
“We have had very good success in the past two and a half years with respect to testing of this system,” he said. “It is a capability that does work, and that we will rely on as we move into this 21st century.”