Few people talk details on nuclear weapons – of the US, Russia, China, North Korea, soon perhaps Iran. The reason is unspoken unease, recognition by leading experts of hard facts. That said, we should talk about hard facts – what they are, where they lead us, and what can be done to make an uneasy world safer.
Fact one: America has an anti-ballistic missile – of ballistic missile defense (BMD) program – but it is minimal, underdeveloped, hamstrung by politicians who prefer to avoid it, imagine it might be “provocative.” That perception must change as credible defenses – even if limited – are a deterrent.
Today, the US has a layered system for knocking down a handful of incoming nuclear ballistic missiles. That system includes a few dozen ground- and sea-based anti-missile systems, with 80 percent success.
Among the top systems is the US Navy’s Aegis BMD system which is also supported by the US Missile Defense Agency. US Navy cruisers and destroyers have this system, quick response to launches from Iran or North Korea, protecting allies in Europe, the Middle and Far East. But Aegis is limited.
While the number of US ships with BMD capability is gradually growing, with roughly 50 capable soon, it is also weakly funded relative to other major DOD programs. The program is supportive of key allies, including “Aegis Ashore” locations in Poland and Romania.
To date, many questions remain unanswered. These include how and whether Aegis could protect the US Homeland, whether Congress really understands US vulnerability, whether technologies can be accelerated, costs cut, deployments increased to elevate security, and whether lasers may assist.
Beyond Patriot and short-range missiles, we have “Grand-Based Midcourse Defense” (GMD) missiles. These aim to pick up a long-range missile midcourse, no matter the warhead.
The GMD systems are based in Alaska and California and were gradually increased in 2018 (44 new ones), 2019 (20), and more ahead. That said, these too are limited in number and effectiveness, and incomplete.
Nutshell: We have layers of partial response to a minimal attack, but Congress and Presidents have been slow to make BMD a priority, incremental adds since Reagan. That said, America’s BMD footprint could be improved, prioritized, and made reliable with missing political will, time, and money.
Fact Two: Fear, indifference, and denial are high among politicians. Many think protecting the country, pushing effectiveness, use of lasers, space-based defenses, and making BMD real – might “trigger” buildups.
That argument, of course, is why countries throughout history soft-shoed defense, hoped for the best, and regretted doing that. If the point is preparing to win, defense is essential, as is offense. Moreover, deterring war means having both credible offenses and credible defenses. We can do better than fear.
Fact Three: Preparing to win – and thus winning by deterring – a war, requires preparation. Experts think we need 15 years to get fully prepared, just about the time China needs for many missiles. Planning would be wise.
Fact Four: Iran and North Korea, based on the West’s political foot-dragging, lifting of sanctions, ignoring military reality, and indulging a foolhardy, senseless quest for trustless peace, are about to become rogue nuclear powers, as likely as not to be irrational, egotistical, theological, and terrorist.
This means BMD becomes doubly important since they will have few missiles to launch – but one could do a world of damage. In short, we are moving from idealistic peace-mumbling, prevention, and hoped-for non-proliferation to straight-up deterrence and defense.
Once these nations can hit us, we need to deter and defend against a few missiles – with reliability. No more chasing little white peace rabbits with hundreds of millions in US cash, flown in darkness to Iran by Obama – the way Biden flies illegal aliens to the heartland. Those days will be firmly over.
Finally, we must stop – from China and Russia to Afghanistan, Iran, and other world threats – believing our own nursery rhymes about “good in everyone” and “they will live by peace because they want it” and “if we only give them a little, they will be satisfied” and “they do not want to be terror states.”
Of course they do, and they will push as hard as they can until someone pushes back, using every tool available from cyber and psychological to alliances, material sciences, and kinetic to put them in the box. To imagine, as Democrats do – and some Republicans too – that peace is about to break out is fiction.
So, as we look hard at the future of nuclear warheads, ballistic missiles, and defense – it is time to move, stop thinking the world will get peaceful because we say so, and resume preparing. Genuine preparation – leadership, resolve, and consistent commitment – makes things safer. Talk rarely does.
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