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While in the gym recently, a major TV news network flashed the headline; “As North Korea Fires 4 Missiles Into Sea.” I returned home to see a 2nd headline, this time reading; “Iran Launches 2 Ballistic Missiles.”
Later that same day, in an email exchange with a trusted friend and colleague, a retired German Air Force Lieutenant General, about Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) and Theater BMD (TBMD) in Europe, he noted; “Much hotter in that context [BMD/TBMD in Europe], however, is the discussion about defending against the SRBM [short range ballistic missile] threat from Russia.”
These are not random occurrences, but instead a trending topic with potentially serious consequence to the United States, its allies, its partners and its friends. The evidence is clear. The threat from short, to medium, to long range ballistic missiles is here to stay, and by all accounts, will continue to quickly grow in the coming months and years.
How does the new Administration, now rapidly approaching the half way point through its first 100 days, proactively plan to counter, and if required, defeat this threat?
President Trump has publicly touted his Administration will “develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system” to protect against Iran and North Korean. However, in February, the Congressional Research Service published an insight report titled Current Ballistic Missile Defense Issues which noted; “Little detail is currently available about the Trump Administration’s agenda for missile defense and whether current policy or program direction might change.”
As the Administration works to present its detailed defense budget proposal to Congress, the President and the Pentagon should focus efforts on tangible missile defense priorities. While threats from North Korea grab top news spots and defense of the homeland is discussed hourly, the importance of our missile defense efforts in Europe must remain equally important and not be ignored. As the former NATO Allied Air Commander in Izmir, Turkey and currently as a NATO Senior Mentor, I know BMD / TBMD planning, exercises and acquisition are a top priority amongst our allies and partners in Europe.
In 2009, the Obama administration announced the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), the U.S. contribution to NATO’s BMD mission against the potential Iranian missile threat to Europe. With Phase 1 and 2 complete, Phase 2 is on track for completion in 2018, which would include the completion of an Aegis Ashore site equipped with SM-3 missiles in Poland. And Phase 4 seems to be back on track for 2020. Knowing the importance of the EPAA and the growing Iranian threat, the Trump administration simply completing those efforts is not enough.
Following the recent North Korea tests, the U.S. deployed the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system to South Korea. That deployment, and more importantly, the system’s inherent defense capabilities certainly grabbed the attention of North Korea, Iran, Russia and China, alike.
But, that does not mean we should delay or back down on our missile defense efforts. Instead, in the face of these growing threats, the administration should shift the EPAA into overdrive and expand missile defense efforts in Europe.
The Middle East remains a region of unrest and Russia’s defiance, when it comes to expanding its military and missile capabilities, creates cause for concern. In May 2016, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said, “As long as Iran continues to develop and deploy ballistic missiles, the United States will work with our allies and partners to defend against the threat.” Given growing and evolving threats and the additional resources the Administration is willing to expend for defense, putting the EPAA on steroids should be a core priority of our nation’s missile defense strategy.
As we have heard, President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis continue to pressure our NATO allies to pay their fair share when it comes to burden sharing within the NATO Alliance, and rightfully so. We can no longer do this on our own. Encouraging our allies in Europe to expand their own missile defenses is vital to their security and ours as well. I saw it first hand as a NATO commander on multiple occasions. When the Alliance pools it collective efforts, a synergistic affect takes place. The sum of those parts becomes greater than the whole.
An integrated missile defense system for Europe and the United States ensures our vulnerabilities are minimized. Poland, for example, has already taken steps to secure their own missile defense systems, the Patriot Air and Missile Defense system. Their recent and scheduled acquisitions demonstrate their commitment to stand up to and to defeat that close-in threat on their eastern border.
Regarding the recent North Korean ballistic missile test and referencing the U.S. – South Korea Alliance, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command said; “Continued provocative actions by North Korea only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea.”
The same has to be said when it comes to ballistic missile defenses for our nation and our allies in Europe. While the U.S. has, can and will take the missile defense lead, other allied nations must also bolster their own capabilities. President Trump’s administration must be encouraging action now; not in years to come.
Another ballistic missile fired from Iran might not be too far in the future. What if the next one is not a test? Proactive planning could be the essential key keeping Americans, and our allies, safe and secure.
Lt. General Ralph J. Jodice is a retired 3-star Air Force command pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours, and has commanded six times at multiple levels in the U.S. Air Force and NATO. A decorated flag officer, he was the NATO Combined Forces Air Component Commander during Operation Unified Protector, and served as the Defense Attaché at the American Embassy in Beijing, China. Jodice has received numerous awards and decorations including the Distinguished Service Medal and Defense Superior Service Medal.