Global Threats Demand Better Domestic Missile Defense

In May, the Trump administration’s budget request for 2018 was on course to maintain a similar level of missile defense funding as seen during the Obama administration. Then, on November 29th, North Korea tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching speeds of more than 8,000 miles per hour.

In the wake of the rogue state’s persistent tests, funding for missile defense has skyrocketed. Congress’ recent approval of a September White House reprogramming request added $368 million to missile defense spending—with $249 million going to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

This uptick in funding would be the biggest increase in missile defense spending in a decade. However, much of the budget is allocated to costly missile interceptor systems deployed overseas, far away from American soil.

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These foreign missile interceptor sites are multiplying rapidly, and consume a large chunk of the total defense budget. In 2016, a U.S. missile defense site was activated in Romania, and Poland will follow suit in 2018.

Unfortunately, this means our domestic defense funding is suffering, and lawmakers and defense professionals have an obligation to fix it.

One solution is boosting funding for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system (GMD). The GMD detects, tracks, and destroys ballistic missiles with kinetic energy utilizing an Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), and has been proven in a variety of test flights.

While traditional missile defense systems are designed to destroy missiles before or after the midcourse phase, the GMD intercepts missiles in the middle of the midcourse phase—directly in space.

In the case of a nuclear missile attack, this distinction is the difference between releasing harmful nuclear fallout in space, or in close proximity to the Earth.

Currently, the GMD has 44 land-based interceptor missiles deployed at two sites in the continental United States—Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenburg Air Force Base, California. Soon, there will only be 43 interceptor missiles due to a test scheduled for 2018, leaving the bare minimum as mandated by U.S. policy.

This missile count represents a thin margin, and should an attack occur and disaster strike, the GMD may find itself dangerously underprepared.

On Tuesday, President Trump signed the FY18 defense authorization bill into law, which includes approximately $66 billion for upgrades to missile defense systems, but spending won’t occur until lawmakers decide on the FY18 appropriations measure.

“Congress must follow this authorization with a matching appropriation bill if we are to really rebuild our military,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) told AirForceTimes.

Simply put, it’s time for an appropriations bill that prioritizes the defense of the continental United States. Missile defense systems based abroad aren’t as effective as systems based on American soil, and take up enormous swathes of the defense budget.

In light of nuclear threats like North Korea, it’s time that lawmakers allocate far more financial backing to defending the home front itself.

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