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The Future of U.S. Army Missile Defense – Threats, Geopolitics, and Technology

November 16, 2012

Peter Huessy, the founder and president of the defense consulting firm GeoStrategic Analysis and a Visiting Fellow at JINSA, addressed the JINSA co-sponsored symposium on “New Technologies for the U.S. Army: Future Prospects and Policy Implications,” October 18, 2012 in Washington, DC.

The following are his edited remarks.

I want to thank JINSA and the Reserve Officers Association for their sponsorship of this event. What I’m going to talk to you about is the future of Army missile defense technology. And first I want to talk to you a little bit about the threat. I’m going to talk about these five points that I believe are the key threats, some of which the Army has laid out in testimony on Capitol Hill.

One, we have to preserve key capabilities.

Two, we have to understand the missile threats in relation to geography.

Three, we have to understand the nature of the threat we face. It is what Ahmad Shah Massoud, the former head of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, called a “poisonous coalition,” and that coalition consists of the terror affiliates and the terror states, and their supporters, many of which are now possessing and using missiles of all ranges.

Four, I will discuss the Army view of things; the Army and missile defense policy and role; and the threat environment; and what are the concerns of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

Five, I will speak about two Army technologies and future capabilities, including JLENS, and the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator, that you might find of interest.

Let me start with the Congressional committees. This is a very important point, and it was made back in 1986 as well, and that was, the committee report said, do the utmost to preserve key capabilities in times of fiscal austerity.

One of the things preserved from the 1980s and 1990s drawdowns was the technology related to the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). As you know, in the 1991 Gulf War JDAMS and smart bombs made up only a small percent of all munitions. By the time of the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, I believe close to 90 percent of everything we used were guided munitions similar to JDAM. And that’s the point here.

There’s a new book out, The Curse of Geography, by Robert Kaplan. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed back on the 14th of October of this year, Kaplan wrote, “Countries that make up the heartland and rim lands,” which is basically Central Asia, writ large, “are locked in a deathly geographical embrace of overlapping missile ranges.” I think it’s an extraordinarily interesting way of talking about what we are facing in the world.

And I urge you to get his book and read it because, as Kaplan was quoted back in 2006 in a Wall Street Journal article by Bret Stephens, “The United States is behind the power curve when it comes to post-launch.” It’s an interesting way of talking about missile launches. And, at that time, as you know, we were just in the process of deploying what are now over 1,000 ballistic missile interceptors of all kinds.

[The enemy is] Pakistani and Arab intelligence agencies; impoverished young students bused to their death as volunteer fighters from Pakistani religious schools; exiled Central Asian Islamic radicals trying to establish bases in Afghanistan for their revolutionary movements; and wealthy sheikhs and preachers who jetted in from the Persian Gulf with money, supplies, and inspiration.

– Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud

When it comes to the nature of the threat, I previously mentioned Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was a Northern Alliance leader murdered two days before 9/11. Massoud had a good read on what we would be facing in Afghanistan. His description of the enemy I cite here comes from the book, Ghost Wars, by Steven Coll:

A poisonous coalition: Pakistani and Arab intelligence agencies; impoverished young students bused to their death as volunteer fighters from Pakistani religious schools; exiled Central Asian Islamic radicals trying to establish bases in Afghanistan for their revolutionary movements; and wealthy sheikhs and preachers who jetted in from the Persian Gulf with money, supplies, and inspiration.

I think it is the single most important statement ever made in terms of for us understanding terrorism.

We’re talking about a coalition of not only states and intelligence services and militaries, but as you can see here, “impoverished young students bused to their deaths as volunteer fighters from Pakistani religious schools; exiled Central Asian Islamic radicals.”

If you remember, Benghazi was the source of more fighters in Iraq, coming through the Damascus airport, and then through the ratlines into Iraq to kill Americans and fellow Iraqi Muslims, than any other place on the globe. And yet, we often assumed those who were fighting in Iraq were in-country insurgents. We were told they were all locally grown because they didn’t like the presence of the “crusaders,” meaning the United States.

They were coming from many places, which tells you this was also organized outside Iraq. They were coming from Iran and Libya, primarily, and they were coming through Syria. As the Iraqi government said over and over again – they would write the Syrian government and request that the ratlines be shut down. And Syria would ignore them. And the U.S. government would respond that the issue is between the two governments.

The “surge” in Iraq was the response to the fact these ratlines were sending thousands and thousands of jihadis into Iraq. That is what we’re facing even now. The Arab Spring turned into an opportunity for the forces of freedom to gain power or the forces of totalitarianism. I think the latter are winning.

I also want to point out that there are other countries that are not Islamic that are part of this coalition. In 2009, Robert Morgenthau, then the attorney for the City of New York, indicted two Chinese companies for helping Iran with ballistic missile and nuclear technology transfers.

And this is what’s key, Morgenthau did not say nuclear energy. The indictment, according to Morgenthau, lists “nuclear weapons technology.” Most of the headlines in much of the media report that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon. Then why were these two Chinese companies indicted for supplying the very technology that you use to build a nuclear bomb?

Also in 2009, Larry Kudlow interviewed Morgenthau. In that fascinating interview it was discussed how Venezuela, Iran, and China, are working together. And I urge you to go and look up the Wall Street Journal op-ed.

For a class that I taught at the National Intelligence University as a guest lecturer on nuclear terrorism, I wrote the following:

Once we recognize that terrorism is a tool of state-craft, used by governments, intelligence services, militaries and other state entities, we can see al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Abu Sayef, FARC, and ELN for who they are: tools of our mortal enemies rather than as reform seeking jihadis or guerrillas looking to redress historical grievances. And terrorism, just like in the Cold War, is the most convenient weapon for governments precisely because it breaks the string of attribution that would otherwise make retaliation and deterrence possible.

Terrorism is the most convenient weapon for governments precisely because it breaks the string of attribution that would otherwise make retaliation and deterrence possible.

Why is terrorism used today? It allows states not to have anything attributed to them. And missiles happen to be one of the primary means of using or threatening the use of force, whether it’s Hamas or Hezbollah or the Taliban or al-Qaeda, as you’ve seen through all of North Africa and the Middle East. Missiles, as the former head of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization Uzi Rubin has pointed out, are the coin of the realm when it comes to these countries.

Robert Kaplan says the same thing. He says if you take every country from North Korea across the southern rim through India, Pakistan, all through the Middle East and North Africa, the one commonality in the defense establishments of these countries is the deployment and purchase and production of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, short- and long-range. And that is the commonality of these folks.

We often hear about the Haqqani network or Taliban or al-Qaeda in Pakistan. And we’re told they’re in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as if there is no relationship between terror group and state entities.

They get help and sanctuary and weapons and money – apart from the heroin crop – from the Pakistani governmental intelligence agency ISI. And yet, we rarely hear that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terror and is basically sending Haqqani and al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters across the border to kill Afghanis, Pashtun tribesmen, and of course coalition soldiers including Americans.

So, with that background, it is enlightening to see the massive proliferation of missiles between 1990 and 2009. If you trace where many of these rockets and missiles come from, they often come from states, governments, particularly Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. These rockets are going all over the world and they are the proliferation we face.

Now what is the U.S. Army’s view of this? They make a kind of interesting point. They say this is an era of “persistent conflict.”

The proliferation of weapons technology includes missiles. There’s a rapid change in the arsenals. There are varied threats. They are aimed at population areas and areas as well with fixed military assets. They require the Army to be very maneuverable and have wide-area security, as opposed to just point defense.

And one of the most interesting things in the Army’s own document that recently came out on missile defense, was that the U.S. Army supports the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to “detect, deter and prevent attacks,” against the continental United States. This gets into the issue of, who protects us: the Coast Guard, the Navy, the Army, Homeland Security, the FBI, police, first responders, which we haven’t made a very clear demarcation. And it’s one of the areas I’ll get into about some of the threats, where I see some of the emerging technologies being very helpful.

Terror groups are used by states to augment the state’s power to attack surreptitiously and without attribution, which makes deterrence very difficult.

The Army also sees global threats from “empowered non-state actors.” That’s a quote. I would turn it around. The terror groups empower terror master states and vice versa. My view is that terror groups are used by states to augment the state’s power to be able to attack surreptitiously and without attribution, which makes deterrence very difficult.

And even in the case of Hamas and Hezbollah, where their rockets rain down on Israel. I don’t know if any of you have been in Israel and have been to Sderot or Ashkelon. When I was there last, in Sderot, the police chief showed me a large shed filled with nothing but the parts of hundreds of rockets that had been launched from Gaza.

And you can see the rockets were made in all different sizes and shapes, all different technologies and talent. Some of them looked like they’d been made in your backyard. Some of them looked like they are more sophisticated with help from places like China and Iran.

But what’s interesting is these rockets often are fired by Hamas from Gaza. And the schoolyard, for example, which is a popular target of Hamas, the children no longer go to school there. The school is empty. The children go to school in private homes, which are much less able to be targeted. So, we are dealing with not only terrorism and coercion and blackmail, but also criminality and regular and irregular warfare, says the Army.

And these are asymmetrical threats, include ballistic and cruise missiles and unmanned drones. As you noticed, Hezbollah launched a couple of drones over Israel, primarily to see, I think, what the Israelis would do. And the Israelis shot it down. But, I think that was part of what you were seeing there. And whether the drone was produced by Iran or Syria, we’re not sure yet.

The Army needs systems that have a very fast decision time and without a single point of failure where if the enemy destroys one element the ability to see, sense and, hence, to intercept the incoming missiles is lost. Future systems should be joint and integrated with existing systems and must deal with the full range of air and missile threats.

And what’s interesting is that the Army says in Operation Iraqi Freedom we used 41 of 50 Patriot batteries deployed in seven countries. And today, we have seven of our 50 Patriot batteries and three of our three AN/TPY-2 radars that are deployed. And the Army then concluded that, in their view, there are three key areas in which this threat is very, very serious: the Korean peninsula and North Korea, the Persian Gulf, and the maritime environment. The Army said that maritime areas, particularly those where American forces are, but also the continental United States.

The Army needs systems that have a very fast decision time and without a single point of failure where if the enemy destroys one element the ability to see, sense and, hence, to intercept the incoming missiles is lost. Future systems should be joint and integrated with existing systems and must deal with the full range of air and missile threats.

Now what about Congress? I went through the House and Senate Armed Services Committee reports and this is what they suggested we do – buy more AN/TPY-2 radars.

See, it would be beneficial to share kill vehicles  – the maneuvering warhead that actually intercepts the incoming missile – between the Navy’s Aegis system and the Army’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense. Two committees said deploy an East Coast defense, which the House Armed Services Committee said could be the Standard Missile 1A or 1B, though there is no reason it cannot be the Standard Missile2Block III-B. It could be two- or three-stage Ground Based Interceptors (GBI). The committee estimated the cost to be between $1.2 and $3.6 billion. [Ed. Note: There is no reason such a deployment cannot be a compliment to the planned deployment of Standard Missiles in Europe for the purpose of defending the United States east coast and our NATO partners from Iranian missiles].

The House Armed Services Committee also said that GBI should be sustained, enhanced and upgraded, what they called “well-hedged.” The committee said that there’s a highly inadequate testing pace, that the two most important things to achieve are discrimination and kill assessment. And, finally, the committee reported that, given the pivot to Asia, there is particular interest in the Standard Missile and its applicability to the Pacific.

Also mentioned were the Israeli missile defense systems Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow – both issues of co-production as well as make an emphasis that the systems in Israel defend against specific threats from a particular geographic area that is known, as opposed to what the Army is looking at is 360-degree coverage in any place on globe.

Additionally, the committee was looking at how to achieve long-term modernization of Patriot through 2025, emphasizing the insertion of technology and what was referred to as “harvesting” technology improvements.

One of the assumptions is that Iran is not yet a threat to the United States because they have not built a nuclear warhead – that we know of. And that Iran has no delivery vehicle or an ICBM to attack the United States if launched from Iranian soil.

If you remember the threat reports from the CIA to President Clinton in 1997, which became the basis of the famous August 2001 threat assessment, is that al-Qaeda was interested in hijacking airplanes. And the assumption was they were going to hijack airplanes overseas and use them as bait or ransom to get back prisoners, which they have done historically. The PLO practically invented that.

And that was true. That’s what hijackers have always done, until they didn’t. They flew the airplanes into buildings. And so my view is, interestingly, it took America how long to figure out that airplanes can become missiles? In a matter of minutes that morning, for the folks over Pennsylvania who took down that airplane because they understood the terrorists weren’t hijacking the airplane in order to have a prisoner swap anymore.

And so it is with missiles. That people assume that there’s always a return address for an attack and therefore deterrence will work, always fascinates me. Yes, there is a return address until there isn’t one! Until, of course, rockets are either launched from the ocean or from crowded urban settings. It’s interesting. We know where the rockets come from in Gaza. We know they come from Hezbollah in Lebanon. But, does that deter them from launching them? No. In short, we have a return address, which is problematical because they hide the rocket launchers in the midst of civilian urban populations in order to deter counter strikes.

And if the attack comes out from the ocean, which is my worry about Iran, then the question is, when it does happen, will we know where it comes from? Will we know the freighter from which the missiles were launched? Maybe. It could be sunk. But how do we know who the patron of the attack is? And, so the question is, the deterrence connection in terms of attribution breaks down.

The Russian Club K cruise missile system is a missile launcher that looks like a standard shipping container like you see stacked on freighters at sea and in all the ports of the world. They open up and an erector pops up and the cruise missile shoots out of it. And they are relatively cheap. The Russian government says it has no intention of selling this system to any bad guys.

What future specific technology might assist to deal with this threat? There is a system called JLENS. It’s the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System. It has completed two tests, April 25 and September 21, where it demonstrated the ability to work with both Navy and Army systems, specifically the Patriot and the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6). The SM-6 mates the legacy Standard Missile airframe and propulsion elements with the advanced signal processing and guidance control capabilities of the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).

JLENS is a pair of tethered aerostats carrying aloft highly accurate long distance radars. You could have two systems deployed over the Persian Gulf. You could deploy one over the Korean peninsula. You’d have a 550 kilometer 360 degree coverage.

JLENS can detect missiles, aircraft, and ships. It also can detect swarming small boats, which is one of the problems we’re facing in the Persian Gulf from Iran. And the fire control radar is integrated with a whole host of systems, both Army and Air Force, as well as Navy.

And what’s interesting is that JLENS can see over the horizon, which is, I think, critical.  It can track low flying cruise missiles, 24/7, 360 degrees. The aerostats are tethered to a fuel supply so the weight of the JLENS is very little, compared to other technologies.

The area that [the commander of U.S. Pacific Command] wants to protect from ballistic missiles is not just the Straits of Hormuz, but also the Malacca Straits. Far more trade and oil traffic goes through the Straits of Malacca than Hormuz yet piracy from the coast of Somalia has now reached this key region east of India.

One of the points the Army made it that the system would give U.S. commanders the capability to engage threats such as road mobile short-range missile launchers to shipping in strategic waterways. And what’s interesting is yesterday the head of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), who spoke at the conference down in Eglin Air Force Base, said the area that he wants to protect from ballistic missiles is not just the Straits of Hormuz, but also the Malacca Straits. Far more trade and oil traffic goes through the Straits of Malacca than Hormuz yet piracy from the coast of Somalia has now reached this key region east of India.

And if you’ve ever seen it, you have to go north towards Singapore and then down through this area of over hundreds of kilometers, and then back up through Java and then into the Pacific. That area is now becoming a hotbed of what off the coast of Somalia we saw six years ago, which is piracy, 90 percent of which is commercial.

These pirates have law firms that they have contracted with, which will call up the ship owners and say this is what the ransom is. You can wire it to this bank account, which is done on a regular basis.

I think 10 percent of the piracy is political. One expert says you have to understand the pirates of Somalia are not pirates. They’re not sailors. They’re desert tribesmen. And they see tankers as nothing more than lost camels at sea. So it makes a lot of sense, given the tradition, of grabbing those things because they’re not owned by anybody except for whoever owns that portion of the desert or, in this case, the oceans.

Could JLENS help deal with an EMP threat? Could it help with a missile launched 300 to 500 kilometers off our coast in an EMP mode?

And I want to tell a story that occurred back in 1999. Twelve members of the House Armed Services Committee, six Democrats and six Republicans, met with Russian officials in Vienna. They were talking about Kosovo. The Russians were not happy about what was going on, as many of you know.

And the senior Russian leader at the meeting had said nothing over the entire day’s meeting. And Congressman Curt Weldon asked the individual if he would like to say something. And he said, “Yes, you’ve treated us terribly since the end of the Cold War. We live in tents. We have no money. We’re trading vodka and potatoes for food.” And then he said, “Just remember, we can launch a missile from a submarine off your coast.  You will not know what happened. And we can explode a warhead 70 to 100 miles above your country and it will generate an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) that will kill tens of millions of your people, and you won’t know what happened.

And he spoke that in Russian, and Curt then translated it for the other 11 members of the House Armed Services Committee, at which point most turned white. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, who was one of the participants in the meeting, said right after they got that bad news the individual’s deputy said, “If that one doesn’t work we have plenty of spares.”

Interestingly, the House then two years ago passed what’s called the Grid Protection Act. Rep. Yvette Clarke from New York, Rep. Trent Franks from Arizona, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett from Maryland, and Rep. Bennie Thompson from Mississippi – two Democrats and two Republicans – got this bill passed unanimously. It has even been brought up in the Senate.  But it was to protect America’s electric grid against an EMP. But you could help do this with missile defense with JLENS because it would give you that wide area view of the oceans and protect us.

I think it’s pretty important that the Army sees these emerging threats. It’s very similar to what’s going on with Iran. Iran, as you know, has tested in an EMP mode, rockets launched in the Caspian off a barge, and they also did it in the Indian Ocean. And they exploded it 70 miles above the earth’s surface.

And our intelligence community said that must have been a failure. The Air Force said no. When they testified and gave the information to the Rumsfeld Commission, they said no, it wasn’t a failure. This was an EMP-mode test.

It has been reported and was included in Morgenthau’s brief that Iran is helping build ballistic missile bases in Venezuela. And it just so happens that the Iranian Shahab-3 ballistic missile, if launched from Venezuela, can reach Miami, some 2,000 kilometers distant.

And so, you put two and two together.

When I look at the major key requirements for what the Army says it needs in the Persian Gulf, the Korean peninsula and maritime protection, JLENS fits the bill exactly. And it is ready to go. They need to do a real world test that they’ve done in this country, with the Navy and the Army elements.

My plea is for those of you to take a look at this, even in an era of downsizing and reduction in the defense budget, this is a technology that ten years from now when it’s deployed, I hope, we will look back and say thanks, I’m really glad we sustained it and maintained it and produced it.

Thank you all.

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