White House Dials Back Missile Defense, Just As Iran, Russia, North Korea Floor The Gas On Missile Tech

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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The system that protects the U.S. and its allies from enemy missiles may risk not having enough ordnance if the Obama administration’s proposed defense budget is passed.

The Aegis Standard Missile 3 IB (SM-3) will see a budgetary cut of $159 million in the current National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The U.S. military will procure only 35 SM-3 missiles in fiscal year 2017, as opposed to the 49 procured in FY16. Additionally, the SM-3 IIA variant will see a cut of $30 million, which could shut down the production line on the missile’s most advanced version.

The budgetary cut comes at a time when missile defense has become a paramount U.S. security concern, especially given the recent aggression of Russia, the continued threat posed by the large Iranian missile stockpile and North Korea’s continued research into nuclear weapons and inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities.

Russia, as part of an overall military modernization program, has recently unveiled its plans to deploy what will be the world’s largest ICBM come 2018. Iran has the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East, which includes some weapons systems that can target portions of southern and eastern Europe. Since the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July, Iran has engaged in at least three tests of its ballistic missiles, and plans to continue to do so despite U.S. sanctions and international condemnation. For its part, North Korea not only conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, but has also conducted a rocket test that could lead to advances in the country’s ICBM capability.

Missile defense systems feature SM-3s on both land and sea. They are one of the most effective missile interceptors, particularly in targeting missiles traveling through space, those most likely to carry nukes. Currently, the SM-3 has 25 successful tests to its name since October 2014. The Navy plans to engage in 6 more flight tests this year, with 17 more coming in 2017, putting further strain on the limited arsenal.

Demands for the SM-3 are poised to reach an all time high come 2017. According to an April testimony from U.S. Navy Vice-Adm. J.D. Syring to the House Armed Services Committee, the Navy plans to deploy 39 SM-3 IB’s to its assets on Aegis-equipped ships and its ashore site in Romania, which just became operational May 12. The ashore site acts as a first line of defense from attacks originating from both Russia and Iran.

The Romanian facility is phase two of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), the U.S. and European missile defense initiative. A third phase intends to create another Aegis ashore facility in Poland in 2018. The military plans to deploy the advanced SM-3 BlockIIA to the Polish site, the same missile whose production line could be on the chopping block before the facility becomes operational, should current budget proposals pass.

Syring has referred to the Aegis system as the “backbone” of U.S. regional defense.

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Russ Read