Obama’s dangerous approach to missile defense

Ken Blackwell Former Ohio Secretary of State
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When Congress returns after recess, the astronomical levels of spending included in President Obama’s budget will face a vicious showdown in this election year, which will make the debt ceiling debate look tame. And while our campaigner in chief is busy making jokes about eating dogs and claiming credit for the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama is facing intense scrutiny for his proposed changes to the military which will leave America vulnerable to future terrorist attacks.

Last week in my leadership role at the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Ohio, I signed a letter along with leading conservative organizations such as the National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, The National Center for Public Policy Research and the Institute for Liberty to encourage members of Congress to reject the administration’s proposal to shift resources away from proven missile defense systems toward the development of untested systems which are routinely off schedule and over budget. While conservatives always support a strong military, America is overwhelmed in debt and we cannot afford extravagant missile experimentation.

This debate involves America’s first line of defense against airborne attacks — the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3), which can intercept enemy missiles while in flight. The missile’s proven track record is why they are also essential to the NATO effort in Europe to defend against missiles from hostile nations such as Iran, which will have the capacity to launch a nuclear missile at America soon.

Yet, despite the SM-3’s impressive performance history and expanding homeland defense capabilities, President Obama has all but turned his back on the missile. In his 2013 budget, the president cuts funding for the newest evolution of SM-3 (known as IB), which will result in 52 percent fewer missiles, even though commanders in theater have consistently complained about shortages.

President Obama took his dangerous approach to defense a step farther by not just chopping funding for the first missile that will be able to protect us against an ICBM attack; he also chose to pour $224 million into a sophisticated and tedious missile program that is on life support.

The missile, known as II-B, is but a theoretical concept which could not be built until 2021, if you believe optimistic government timelines. In a bipartisan move this past December, Congress virtually eliminated the 2012 budget for the program. The message was clear: We have more urgent budget priorities and current threats demand we deploy a missile to protect the continental United States much sooner than 2021.

These conservative organizations and I are not pretending to be experts in aerospace engineering or defense strategy. However, we believe this is a fiscally responsible approach to defense and many members of Congress agree. For example, House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner recently told Missile Defense Agency Director Patrick O’Reilly that the subcommittee is concerned “we may be throwing paper wads of designs of SM-3 II-Bs rather than throwing actual interceptors that could make a difference for the defense of our nation.” In the same March 2012 hearing, Chairman Turner referred to SM-3 II-B as a “next decade development.”

Key senators have similar concerns. In a hearing last week, Alabama Senator Jeff Session told O’Reilly, “SM-3 Block II-B is not developed, not on an assembly line, not ready to be deployed, not a mature technology. We have gone from a bird in the hand for two in the bush … We have gone from a virtual certainty to a very uncertain situation … I am uneasy about it, frankly.”

As of today, President Obama still has not received that consistent, bipartisan message from Congress. After spending millions on development, Obama has decided to shift resources toward more complex future missile variants — a process notorious for being obscenely over budget and off schedule — while rejecting the Congress’ more sensible approach to fiscal responsibility and a more robust national defense.

By rejecting Obama’s position on homeland missile defense, Congress would ensure both that taxpayer dollars are used more effectively and that our country is well-protected. That approach would be a new way of doing business at the Department of Defense and real change that Americans can embrace.

Ken Blackwell is on the board of directors of the National Taxpayers Union.