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Missile Defense Technology Valid, Viable, General Says

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2006 – A robust, fully operational missile defense system is on its way to becoming a reality, the director of the Missile Defense Agency said here yesterday.

"A lot of people wonder if this is going to work, and is it worth the investment," Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. (Trey) Obering III told an audience at the 4th Annual U.S. Missile Defense Conference. "The testing we've conducted ... shows the technology is valid and viable."

The goal of the Missile Defense Agency is to build an integrated, layered ballistic missile defense system that incorporates land-, sea- and air-based defenses to protect the U.S. homeland, deployed troops, and America's friends and allies.

Obering pointed to Iran and North Korea as tangible threats to the U.S. and its allies, but stressed that aside from rouge states the U.S. must be prepared to deal with asymmetric threats from terrorist networks, emerging state powers, and a plethora of unknown scenarios. "We cannot predict what is going to happen," he said. "We didn't know 12 years ago we'd be fighting in Afghanistan. I don't know where we're going to be fighting in 12 years from now."

Because enemies cannot defeat America and its allies on a traditional battlefield, they will look for other ways to inflict harm, such as a missile attack, he said. "There are ways that they (adversaries) can use missiles and weapons of mass destruction married to those missiles to coerce and even blackmail the United States and our allies around the world," Obering said.

The general said dangerous threat scenarios are virtually endless. For instance, "Pakistan, one of our key allies today, ... tomorrow could have a fundamentalist Islamic government controlling their nuclear-tipped missiles," he said. "Tomorrow we have to be prepared. That means we have to start preparing today."

Obering shared the stage with Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who the general introduced as "a champion of missile defense."

England said the new National Security Strategy, which was released last week, deals specifically with future unknown threats. "That strategy stressed a very important theme," England said. "And that theme is that we have never before faced greater uncertainty about future security conditions than we do today."

Since the security strategy identifies proliferation of nuclear weapons as a major threat to national security, ballistic missile defenses provide a critical layer of defense for protecting the U.S. against WMD-armed missile attacks, he said.

Missile defense is a critical part of the U.S. security strategy, England said. "Both the new National Security Strategy and the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review underscore the need for a strong missile defense capability," he said. "Missile defense is a central part of our broader national strategy, a strategy that can only be realized over time and with a great deal of hard work."

The deputy secretary also emphasized the importance of promoting international cooperation in regard to missile defense. "Another area where MDA is leading the way is in its international partnerships," he said. "Implementing and evolving the nation's strategic defense depends on a unity in effort -- bringing to bear all the elements of national power and working in closest partnership with our friends and our allies abroad. No single nation can stand up to today's danger and win alone."

Japan, Australia, Israel, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, as well as other U.S. allies, are actively cooperating in missile defense with the United States. Japan is by far the biggest partner, contributing about $1 billion annually to research and development.

Speaking later in the day was Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, chief of U.S. Strategic Command, who said that the United States needs a good defense as much as it needs a good offense. "I certainly would not want to put a Marine on the streets of Mogadishu (Somalia) or on the streets of Baghdad without body armor," Cartwright said. "An M16 (rifle) is not enough."

Cartwright also pointed out that America's nuclear arsenal is not a deterrent against Islamic extremism. "A nuclear weapon is not a deterrent against an extremist. We've got to have a defense that underpins that offense," he said. "Without flexibility to combine offense and defense we are limiting ourselves."

Contact Author

Gordon England
Lt. Gen. Henry A. "Trey" Obering III, USAF
Gen. James E. Cartwright, USMC

Related Sites:
Missile Defense Agency
Quadrennial Defense Review

Related Articles:
North Korea, Iran Pose Missile Threat to U.S., General Says
Missile Defense Program Moves Forward

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