The United States is facing one of the most complex security environments in our history, and at the forefront of threats we face is the increasingly sophisticated missile capabilities of our adversaries.
While the U.S. nuclear triad has atrophied in the last twenty years, our adversaries have diligently sought to exceed our nuclear capabilities. We know China has made significant advancements in ballistic, cruise, and hypersonics missiles, and just recently, it has been publicly reported they are constructing dozens of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) silos. And in Russia, Vladimir Putin has pursued a host of strategic weapons that are either unaddressed by, or in violation of, international arms control agreements.
However, we face threats from not just near-peer adversaries but from rogue states as well. For example, North Korea has achieved nuclear capability, along with an increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile arsenal. In Iran's military, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has been tasked with administering their 'civilian' space rocket program. What is more alarming is that Iran recently declared its capability to enrich uranium to 90% purity—which is weapons-grade. Equally ominous is the U.N.-reported resumption of missile cooperation between North Korea and Iran, both of whom clearly pose a threat to the U.S. homeland. It is imperative our homeland missile defense capabilities stay ahead of these threats.
Despite these increasing threats, the United States has been slow to develop a homeland missile defense architecture to defend our homeland against our adversaries' growing capabilities. Just recently, the Pentagon finally awarded a contract to upgrade our ground-based ballistic missile defense system. This long-overdue step would establish the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI), equipped with multiple kill vehicles, to modernize our capability to intercept new, sophisticated ICBM threats.
However, we must expand our missile defense architecture to include another missile defense site on the East Coast to defend against a future ICBM from Iran. In addition, this mid-range system would provide defense capability against our adversaries’ increasingly modernized subsurface sea-based missile capabilities, which could threaten us from somewhere in the Atlantic.
This is not theoretical. While in office, President Obama said the United States would establish a third continental interceptor site on the East Coast if the threats increased. As many Pentagon officials admitted in recent congressional testimony, the threat environment has grown significantly. In 2019, the Department of Defense had even gone so far as to designate Fort Drum in upstate New York as the preferred location for a future East Coast missile defense site.
Unfortunately, doubters of homeland missile defense—including President Biden—have argued missile defense is too expensive or view improved missile defense capabilities as provocative. Neither argument is logical nor based in reality. In this year’s war between Israel and Hamas, Israel’s Iron Dome proved missile defense is a cost-effective investment and reliable and effective against rogue missile attacks. Likewise, Israel’s effective missile defense was not provocative but rather deterred continued missile attacks. With that in mind, advocates for cost-effective defense spending should clearly defend missile defense investments—a tiny fraction of annual GDP—to those Americans vulnerable to a rogue attack from Iran or any other fanatical regime.
Since taking office, the Biden Administration has appointed lifelong skeptics of homeland missile defense to prominent Pentagon positions. Further, the Administration has been painstakingly vague on planned Missile Defense and Nuclear Posture reviews and has slow-rolled the discussion on certain components of homeland missile defense. Under Section 1648 of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Pentagon was required to submit a report to Congress on a layered homeland missile defense system by March 1, 2021. Unfortunately, after repeated delays, Congress still awaits this report. All of this has happened in concert with a Biden budget for missile defense that is recklessly 15% lower than last year’s budget. The Biden Administration’s aversion towards missile defense constitutes a dereliction of the federal government’s duty to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the American people.
While we await future NGIs to fill additional empty silos in Alaska, we should expeditiously establish an East Coast missile defense site, with an underlayer capability—at the least—to counter the missile threats we are facing today. The proposed layered missile defense system, which would complement NGIs with regional systems like the Aegis Ashore missile defense system—which has already successfully intercepted an ICBM with the SM-3 Block IIA missile—or the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, would offer a critical "shoot, assess, shoot" capability in the event of an initial intercept failure. Additionally, establishing an East Coast missile defense site has an associated lag time that fails to account for the continued advancement of adversary capabilities.
As the annual NDAA is drafted, it is vital for Congress to support and properly fund our nation's missile defense platforms. By failing to address missile defense gaps and defend our homeland against our adversaries' advanced missile capabilities, we leave the United States vulnerable and embolden rogue nations to threaten us with nuclear blackmail. As we move through the NDAA process, we urge our colleagues to properly support homeland missile defense platforms to protect the American people from the proliferating threats posed by our adversaries' advanced missile capabilities.
Rep. Elise Stefanik and Rep. Mike Turner both are both members of the House Armed Services Committee. Turner serves as Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.