In 1966, a Soviet captain ran his submarine aground on a Massachusetts beach in a comedy film titled “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming.” In 2012, a Russian captain took his submarine into the Gulf of Mexico and did not run it aground. Instead, he proved the United States could neither detect nor deter him, and then sailed home. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) did not think it was a comedy.
According to press reports, the Russian navy sent a stealthy Akula nuclear submarine into the Gulf of Mexico on a month-long patrol in June and July. With his eye on 624 miles of Texas Gulf coastline, Senator Cornyn wrote to the chief of naval operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, and demanded a detailed report on the incursion.
During that same time, Russian bombers intruded into restricted California airspace in a replay of Cold War tactics. By sending a submarine into the Gulf of Mexico and flying bombers into California airspace, the Russians demonstrated that the United States is vulnerable to close-in cruise missile attack from the sea and air. Perhaps Russia flexed its muscles to back up a statement by Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov that, “A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” a reference to U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has long made it clear that he wants the United States to remain permanently vulnerable to Russian missiles, and must not use its technological superiority to defend the American homeland. In a March 26th meeting with the then-Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, President Obama promised that after his re-election he would have more “flexibility” regarding Russian objections. The open microphone also picked up the phrase, “particularly missile defense.” In 2010, President Obama proposed canceling missile defense programs like the Airborne Laser, the Multiple Kill Vehicle, and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor and cutting Defense Interceptors in Alaska and California. But no one knows whether President Obama has already made secret deals with Moscow.
During the Cold War, carrier groups defended America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts from Soviet submarines. The defenses included a very long-range underwater listening system, long-range patrol aircraft, and attack submarines. Soviet submarines approaching American shores were detected, tracked, and, in many cases, forced to the surface. That vigorous defense was justified when it was discovered that Soviet submarines carried cruise missiles with nuclear and biological warheads. Today’s Russian submarines also carry cruise missiles with electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warheads, capable of destroying the entire American electrical infrastructure. Unlikely?
In May 1999, chairman of the Duma International Affairs Committee, Vladimir P. Lukin, said, “If we really wanted to hurt you with no fear of retaliation, we would launch an SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] and detonate a single nuclear warhead at high altitude over the United States and shut down your power grid and communications for six months …” Another Russian in his delegation, Alexander Shabanov, smiled and added, “And if one weapon wouldn’t do it, we have some spares.”
The bipartisan Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) takes those threats seriously, as well as threats from North Korea and Iran. Chaired by James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, Senator John Kyl, and former Secretary of State George Shultz, the CPD is dedicated to the defense of the American homeland, especially attack by EMP missiles. The CPD board of directors sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on August 14th, stating concerns about a U.S. Army request to put JLENS, a proven defense against cruise missiles, into a limbo leading to cancelation by simply not holding a final field test. That decision does not recognize the strategic importance of the system, or that Congress has already appropriated $40 million to complete the test.
In his nomination acceptance speech Thursday night, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, “Under my administration our friends will see more loyalty, and Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone.”
It is not too late to build defenses to protect the American homeland and our troops in combat. The JLENS system and that “backbone” are needed — now.
Chet Nagle is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a former Pentagon official, and author of “Iran Covenant.”