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DoD Seeks to Improve U.S. Missile Defenses

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 23, 1996 – Lessons learned in Desert Storm are helping DoD improve its ballistic missile defense capabilities, Defense Secretary William J. Perry told students at Georgetown University, recently.

For the next fiscal year, he said, 75 percent of DoDs ballistic missile defense budget will focus on the here-and-now threat -- short-range theater missiles such as the Iraqi Scuds of Desert Storm.

DoD has already deployed theater missile defenses in the Middle East and in South Korea, which include the Patriot missiles like those used in Desert Storm. But this technology is not good enough, Perry said.

DoD has shifted more funds to build advanced Patriots and naval missile defenses that will be operational in a few years, he said. The new systems will protect a wider area, be more accurate and have a more effective destructive mechanism, he added.

"Desert Storm was a wake-up call," Perry said. "Saddam Hussein had ballistic missiles, and he was willing to use them in a terrorist mode by lobbing Scuds at population centers in Israel, which was not even a participant in the war. We do not know what he would have done if his nuclear program had succeeded in producing bombs by then. We do know that he had chemical warheads for the Scuds but chose not to use them."

DoD is also developing next-generation defenses against theater missiles with longer ranges and greater speeds than Scuds. North Korea, for example, is developing missiles with a range of more than 2,500 miles, according to defense intelligence officials.

"DoDs future defense systems will protect areas over 10 times larger than theater missile defenses now being built, allowing DoD to protect an entire army division or a large metropolitan area," Perry said.

In addition to developing defenses to counter the immediate threat of short-range missile attack during regional contingencies, DoD is developing a missile defense system to protect the continental United States from long-range strategic missiles.

"Today, only the established nuclear powers have strategic missiles, and we do not believe that these nations threaten us today," Perry said. "The United States continues to maintain a powerful strategic nuclear force to serve as a deterrent to any major nuclear power that turns hostile.

"This deterrent capability should be enough to warn off any nation from using weapons of mass destruction, but the reality is that the simple threat of retaliation may not be enough to deter some rogue nations or to deter terrorists from using these weapons," Perry said. "We must be prepared to defend ourselves."

Perry said a U.S.-based defense system is needed to intercept and destroy missiles directed at the country. "Our plan is to complete the development of a national missile defense system over the next three years," he said. At that time, if the threat warrants, DoD would be ready to deploy the system in another three years, he added.

If no threat emerges in six years, DoD would continue developing and improving the technologies, Perry said. "That way, we can employ the most advanced system if and when a threat does emerge."

The national missile defense system being developed does not compare to systems considered during the Cold War under the Strategic Defense Initiative, he said. It could not defend the United States against a mass attack of thousands of warheads, but it will be quite capable against the relatively low-volume threat posed by any rogue nation or terrorist in the foreseeable future, Perry said.

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