Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama Aligns BMD With Global Trends

If you listened to the bloggingheads debate between ID contributor Robert Farley and The Weekly Standard editor Michael Goldfarb, then you may have noticed just how little sense the debate talking points from the Presidents political opponents are. They are essentially making a political argument "F--- the Russians!" and... "Defend Poland?" Other than that, ignorance is bliss when it comes to the actual technical details, much less where the real defense politics of the debate are. I kept asking myself, why the heck didn't the Republicans go straight to Mackenzie Eaglen for a memo?

Then I browsed over to Heritage and found Mackenzie Eaglen's paper on the BMD decision, and...

The decision runs contrary to U.S. strategic interests and will undermine security commitments to America's allies. The new plan to focus on the short- and medium-range threats from Iran:
  • Represents a major reversal in American strategic thinking on missile defense,
  • Leaves America more vulnerable to the emerging nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea, and
  • Betrays key allies in Eastern and Central Europe.
Disappointing. I disagree with the first two points entirely, and believe the third is part of the accepted risk of improvement to our defenses - and can be salvaged. The administration just hanged an off speed curve ball over the plate, and the Heritage Foundation whiffed. Does the Heritage Foundation realize they punted on an opportunity to validate virtually every paper they have written about the Navy in support of the petty "F--- the Russians!" argument? The cold war ended nearly 20 years ago people, let it go.

Lets break this down into two posts, this one concentrating on the global politics of ballistic missile defense. For the technical fact check and background talking points, see here.

Global Politics

Anyone who is taking a myopic view of ballistic missile defense and believes this decision is limited to Eastern Europe is wrong. We are on the verge of global changes, and need to make tough choices given the fiscal environment in the DoD.

The biggest near term challenge for ballistic missile defense is defending Israel from conventional Iranian ballistic missiles, because Israel absolutely is crazy enough to attack Iran over nuclear weapons. When a poorly targeted or intercepted Iranian ballistic missile ends up killing Palestinian's in the west bank, the world is going to ask why the US isn't protecting the Palestinians. The same equipment that would be deployed to Poland and the Czech Republic is being unloaded in Israel today in preparation for the Juniper Cobra exercise in mid-October. Press reports claim the equipment will be staying in Israel following the test of Israel's Arrow 2 ballistic missile defense system.

In other words, the timing of the announcement appears to, at least on some level, insure that the major deployable assets for BMD go to Israel and can stay. I think that is a fairly significant geopolitical detail lost in this discussion, because that same equipment was supposedly heading to Poland - an appointment no longer necessary.

The second biggest ballistic missile threat on the nations radar is the anti-ship ballistic missile in development by China. This is the only conventional ballistic missile with strategic consequences, specifically it has the potential to reshape the balance of power in the Pacific. If China ever becomes capable of targeting an aircraft carrier with a ballistic missile from 2000 nautical miles, the US Navy better have the ability to defeat the weapon. This is a game changing capability if realized, and heavily restricts the options of the United States to support our alliances and strategic obligations with allies, particularly in the Taiwan scenario. Remember, by law the DoD is required to be able to protect Taiwan. That doesn't mean the US has to protect Taiwan, but the DoD must, by law, do everything it can to give elected officials that option. That means the top priority in conventional ballistic missile defense must be the Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile threat.

Finally, the last ballistic missile threat is the one posed by North Korea and Iran. Neither country has an operational ballistic missile capable of targeting the United States. Under the assumption both countries will continue development of ballistic missiles for the purposes of building intercontinental ballistic missiles to reach the United States, the US needs to insure that ballistic missile defense between now and then is robust and layered to account for that long term threat while also addressing other, mid-term threats that are more important to our strategic interest.

Superior Globally - Today

AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense is clearly the best way ahead for US ballistic missile defense when evaluating the strategic threats posed by ballistic missiles globally. If war with Israel and Iran broke out today, and the US Navy was tasked today to protect Israel, the USS Higgins (DDG 76) would pull into the Eastern Med, and leveraging radar systems throughout the Middle Eastern region (including the X-Band radar being set up Juniper Cobra) for the SM-3 interceptors on the ship today would give the USS Higgins (DDG 76) better intercept protection of Israel than the Israeli Arrow 2 interceptors. There are AEGIS BMD ships off the coast of North Korea that can do the same thing today, just like there are already two Japanese AEGIS ships with AEGIS BMD ready to contribute. This fact of today flies in the face of the first two arguments presented by the Heritage Foundation.

Furthermore, when you look into your political crystal ball, it isn't hard to see we are about to see what happened in Eastern Europe repeated in the Pacific. The DPJ has already started discussing cuts to ballistic missile defense since winning the election, and politically the DPJ needs to do something in order to stand in contrast to the previous administration. The question for the DPJ is how in the world can they do this in a smart way politically that accounts for both domestic audiences and maintains the desired relationship with the United States? Well, the Obama administration just opened the golden gates and gave them a very useful political avenue.

Japan can keep the radar system but dump the land based interceptors just like what happened in Poland, but maintain a robust ballistic missile defense on their AEGIS ships without any major loss in capability. The lack of ground based interceptors will make it harder on us to intercept ballistic missiles that target the US, but with the PAC-3/AEGIS BMD combination the Japanese will retain a credible point defense capability while keeping them invested in AEGIS BMD, which has assumed a primary role in the United States. It is noteworthy that South Korea isn't interested in being part of a global missile shield network, but does seem open to sea based ballistic missile shield cooperation.

By shifting the Eastern European ballistic missile defense initiatives into the Navy system, the US Navy will now be able to get more funding to ramp up ballistic missile defense in protection of the two primary challenges facing the US today: the protection of Israel and the development towards defeating the Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile threat. The evolutions of AEGIS BMD necessary to address these threats are expensive, and had been competing for limited funding. If Japan chooses to also move towards the sea based system, an easy political option for Japan with the recent announcement, it further streamlines our global ballistic missile defense into an AEGIS/THAAD defense model for near term threats while development continues towards a layered system, which in the end, will be built on the back of the existing AEGIS/THAAD defense model.

Mackenzie Eaglen over at Heritage has been pounding sand trying to get politicians to build more AEGIS combatants in support of emerging ballistic missile defense requirements. Now that she was positioned to pound something besides sand on this expanding requirement, the Heritage Foundation went for the "F--- the Russians!" political argument?

The Bush administration was all over the map on ballistic missile defense, and even the Republican Congress prior to 2006 was complaining how disorganized the Bush administration approach to ballistic missile defense was. Congress has been calling for a plan the MDA has never been able to produce prior to this decision. Once the Obama administration produced a BMD plan that increased the role of the Navy, the Heritage foundation should have jumped all over the Obama administration on the issue of funding Navy shipbuilding to support the plan. The Heritage Foundation looks foolish because they produced ZERO talking points of legitimate political merit with the DoD, and has really missed a chance to shine here. The Russian defense industry is in failure free fall, not only can they not get their latest ballistic missile - the Bulava-M - to work, but they are looking to France to buy new warships? Poland is still getting PAC-3s, Gates told Carl Levin the rest of the military deals are going through.

Why didn't the Heritage Foundation, or any think tank for that matter, not jump on the Obama administration on the issue of shipbuilding in support of more AEGIS ships with this announcement? It was the most logical political argument and the most important argument in support of ballistic missile defense given the decision. I don't understand political strategy - CLEARLY - because as a misunderstanding novice all I did was note the Obama administrations new BMD political policy is directly in line with the defense analysis of AEGIS BMD that the Heritage Foundation has been publishing for years, and they forgot to mention it?

*sigh*

Sometimes I really miss Bob Work in the think tank community, his absence in the public discussion leaves a huge unfilled void in the expert analysis in the rapid news cycle of Navy news today.

No wonder Michael Goldfarb doesn't seem to know what the hell he is talking about in regards to AEGIS BMD in that debate with Robert Farley, the conservative think tanks let the conservative right down on this one big time. Maybe they can get it right when Japan pulls Act II, because when that happens, the need to build more ships to meet all these new naval obligations is going to be readily apparent - and there is no sign in the QDR rumors that the Obama administration is responding to this obvious increase in high end naval presence requirements appropriately.

For the record, I pick on Heritage Foundation (and specifically Mackenzie Eaglen) because they (specifically she) are the most consistent Washington think tank producing public analysis of naval issues. If you are looking for consistent naval analysis in the public space by any other think tank - good luck. The rest are too busy working on their COIN credentials, which is kind of silly because the result is producing very few original ideas not already discussed to some degree on Andrew Exum's blog. Sad, but true.

I have no idea why N3/N5 doesn't include a public engagement aspect for public dissemination of analysis in their CNA contract. CHINFO can't do it, and the SECNAVs office doesn't do it, so why not get an independent group with a bit of intellectual firepower out there engaging issues as they are hot? It makes a ton of sense, because failure to do exactly that has been identified as part of the strategic problem for the DoD in Afghanistan. Another topic I guess...

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