Two critical developments over the last two weeks are making Senate Appropriations Committee members look like brilliant fortune-tellers.
Let's start with some recent history. Last year, the committee sought to supply the military with enough next generation Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors, also known as Block 1B, to address both immediate and short term threats, such as those from Iran and North Korea, while staying within budget guidelines by cutting unproven missile defense concepts that wouldn't be useful anytime in the near future. The SM-3s are ship-based defense systems used to shoot down incoming enemy missiles, much like shooting a bullet with a bullet. The 1Bs are scheduled for deployment in 2015.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration's 2013 budget sought to slash the arsenal of these 1B missiles – by more than half -- and instead spend the money on a pie-in-the-sky program that will do nothing to address the security and diplomatic challenges we face today and in the coming years.
Especially taking into account events taking place just days ago, the Obama budget approach looks woefully outdated.
First, the SM-3 1B shot down a missile in space during a June 26th test-firing by the U.S. military. It was the second consecutive successful test for the 1B, this one in a more complex medium-range intercept and battle-simulated environment than the first, this past May. An earlier test failure was cited as a justification for the president's opposition to purchasing the 62 missiles experts say are necessary to defend against a range of threats. However, given the two latest tests, that basis for opposition is no longer valid.
Second, last week Iran successfully tested medium-range missiles that would be capable of striking Israel or allies in southern Europe. The test, dubbed "the "Great Prophet 7" missile exercise took place on July 1st, coming on the heels of full implementation of the European embargo against Iranian crude oil and yet another failed round of talks between world powers and Iran.
All this comes as the Senate Appropriations Committee is set to take up the annual defense spending bill later this month. The committee would be wise to hold firm against the administration's outdated opposition to supplying the military with sufficient levels of SM-3 1B missiles The committee's bi-partisan spending bill report language, which stated that "near-term requirements are under-appreciated in order to fund uncertain long-term efforts," rings even more true today. "The administration is not spending enough money between now and 2017 to procure enough SM-3 interceptors overall, including enough of the more advanced blocks such as the SM-3 IB and IIA to ensure the inventory is as sophisticated as it should be, in terms of total force, given the range of threats we face," explains Heritage Foundation national security fellow Baker Spring.
According to a May Heritage Foundation report authored by Spring, the administration's budget doesn't put us on target for "the goal of having at least 500 SM-3 missiles in five years." This number of missiles is necessary to maintain a sufficient supply to protect American interests including defending Israel from Iran, various threats to our NATO allies in Europe, as well as threats against the U.S. homeland. The SM-3 IBs are geared toward intercepting medium-range missiles such as the so-called Shahab-3, tested this week by Iran. They, together with the newer IIAs are the only interceptors in development with the potential to protect the U.S. East Coast from long-range missiles, which were also tested by Iran this week. With threats from North Korea and Iran increasing at an accelerated pace, and defense budgets being squeezed, now is not the time to experiment with new-fangled programs the president calls for, especially when the ones already available are now succeeding in increasingly complex tests. Given last week's successful missile defense test and Iran's bellicose response to the harshest sanctions to date, the Senate Appropriations Committee deliberations couldn't come at a more opportune time.
Now is not the time to cut corners on supplying our armed forces with these missiles which not only protect the U.S. and our allies against a looming Iranian threat, but, more immediately, play an important strategic role in the current diplomatic campaign to pressure Iran to stop its threatening nuclear development.
Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.