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Protect America by Preserving and Advancing Our Missile Defenses

Li Xueren/Xinhua via AP

Rising Threats and Unexpected Crises

We live in dangerous times. The rise of China comes with a multitude of threats as the communist state devours Hong Kong; rattles its saber at India and Taiwan; operates ghastly concentration camps on its own soil; buys cutting edge researchers in the West to bolster its own military, and threatens U.S. interests around the world. 

The planet wasn’t ready for the coronavirus outbreak, and we had few defenses. China lied. The World Health Organization failed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control was caught flat-footed and has offered confusing advice. All of this has allowed the virus to spread, costing thousands of lives, and severely damaging our economy. It should also serve as a warning for policymakers everywhere, but especially in the United States: They must expect the unexpected, and implement policies to protect against dangerous possibilities. We have to think forward despite current difficulties. 

This year, Congress and the White House get a second chance to show us they are paying attention to threats and are taking steps to protect citizens. Faced with a known threat, they simply must step up.

They need to fully fund and update Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) missile defense.

A Shield for America

The GMD program is especially important right now because it is the only technology that is capable of protecting the homeland from intercontinental missile attack. It’s a last line of defense against potential nuclear attack, and just by existing, it may convince other nations to refrain from attacking us. After all, they will realize that their attack could be thwarted, and our retaliation would be massive. Better to not even take the chance, especially with China becoming increasingly aggressive under Xi Jinping, the communist state’s most authoritarian leader since Mao.

As with the coronavirus, it’s obvious that enemies are lurking out there. North Korea and Iran, to name just two, are developing missile technology as quickly as they can. Russia and the aforementioned China still possess massive nuclear arsenals, and the daily news highlights that neither of those countries wishes Americans well.

But here’s where the good news comes in. While there was simply no effective defense against coronavirus, there is a proven effective defense against missiles. That’s the GMD program.

The process is incredibly complex. “GMD employs integrated communications networks, fire control systems, globally deployed sensors, and Ground-based Interceptors (GBIs) that are capable of detecting, tracking, and destroying ballistic missile threats,” the missile defense advocacy alliance explains. “The Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) is a sensor/ propulsion package that uses the kinetic energy from a direct hit to destroy the incoming target vehicle.”

It works.

Just three years ago, the missile defense agency and the Air Force successfully intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile target using GMD. This was the first live-fire test against an ICBM target. The system combined information from land- and sea-based radar systems. Using this tracking data, GMD developed a fire control solution, enabling the successful intercept using a Ground-Based Interceptor. It hit the proverbial bullet with a bullet, destroying the target.

If this had been an actual Iranian or North Korean missile, the GMD system would have saved countless American lives.

A Complex, Cutting Edge Project

As with any program this complex, there are setbacks. For example, the Pentagon wants to redesign the “tip of the spear.” The Pentagon canceled the lead integrator’s, Raytheon, flawed redesign of the RKV (redesigned kill vehicle) to top the GMD weapons, but that doesn’t mean GMD doesn’t work. It just means the program will use existing EKVs (Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicles) for a few extra years until a working RKV is ready. As the trade publication Defense News explained, “MDA has had several successful tests of the GMD system with the EKV following engineering changes.”

Many lawmakers already grasp the stakes. “Missile defense is vital to securing our homeland, our forces abroad and our allies, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future,” wrote Reps. Robert Aderholt, Mo Brooks, and Mike Rogers last year. All are Republicans from Alabama.

Opportunity to Think Forward

Meanwhile, Congress is already taking positive steps to improve and update the GMD program. Defense News reported last December that the Pentagon had awarded a contract modification that will increase the value of the contract in the long-term. That shows a positive commitment to improving the program.

In this troubled election year full of unanticipated crises and building threats, Washington needs to take the next steps and fully fund GMD programs. That’s the best way to protect Americans from the predictable, and avoidable, threats.

Bryan Preston is the author of Hubble’s Revelations: The Amazing Time Machine and Its Most Important Discoveries. He’s an Air Force veteran, former producer for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, writer, Texan, and conservative strategist.

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