Memo to the Office of the President-elect: Missile defense now 'urgent'There is a reason why the USSR, Russia and China have been so totally opposed to the USA having any kind of missile defense. Their opposition, and it's degree should inform our leaders of something
The director of the Pentagon's missile defense agency has some urgent advice for U.S. President-elect Barack Obama: Don't go wobbly on missile defense.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, who retires from his position in early 2009, said last week that
Iran is expected to field a missile capable of hitting the United States by 2015. He also warned of the need to answer the emerging China missile threat.
"That is why there is some urgency to this," Obering said, in pressing the need for building a U.S. missile defense interceptor site in Poland and Czech Republic.
Obering said abandoning plans for the site in the Obama administration would severely hamper defenses against Iranian missiles and also would undermine U.S. leadership in NATO, which has agreed that Iranian missiles pose a threat.
"We have been saying for a long time that the Iranian's have a very aggressive missile development program," Obering said. "They are continuing to develop missiles of longer ranges and of better and better technology."
Obering also said current U.S. missile defenses are not geared toward countering Chinese missiles, adding that he did not rule out the possibility of expanding the current system in the future.
"We're not fielding missile defense components today to counter a Chinese threat," Obering said. "We are certainly cognizant of what the Chinese are doing in their missile development program. And we're looking within our own missile defense development program as to what is possible there."
Obering said that while U.S. intelligence agencies do not know for certain when Iran will have the ICBM, "they believe that around the 2015 time frame is when they can have the capability to reach the United States." Currently, Iranian ShIhab missiles can range all of Europe, he said.
Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering addresses an audience at the dedication of the Ronald W. Reagan missile defense site at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Michelle J. Wong
Little has been said in public about Iran's long range missile program but the comments by Obering indicate that Iran is secretly working on building an ICBM.
Obering declined to comment directly on reports of Iran's missile test last week. However, he expressed concerns that Iranian test suggested a missile with a 2,000-kilometer range, multiple stages and solid fuel propellant. If confirmed, "that represents a major step up in their capability," he said. "They are doing exactly what they said they are doing and they are doing it in a very aggressive fashion."
U.S. officials believe Iran obtained small nuclear warhead technology that originated in China and was passed on by the Pakistan nuclear supplier group headed by A.Q. Khan. If combined in the future, the small nuclear warheads and long-range missiles would make Iran a global strategic nuclear power in the next 10 to 15 years.
Obering also recently told reporters that a recent Iranian missile test was one sign of Teheran-Pyongyang missile cooperation.
"I don't know that this particular flight [test] would be a validation in and of itself," Obering said of the Iranian missile test. "But I will tell you that we have many other parameters that we can see that collaboration between those two countries."
North Korea provided Iran its Nodong medium-range missile technology, which was adapted into Iran's Shihab-3 missiles, a mainstay of the Iranian missile forces that is based on Scud short-range missile know-how.
Officials suspect that Iran has also acquired technology from North Korea related to the intercontinental Taepodong-2, which North Korea unsuccessfully flight tested in July 2006.
Iranian officials have said Iran is developing both space-launchers and long-range missiles.
When asked about a draft State Department advisory panel report recommending the U.S. build missile defenses against China's growing force of nuclear missiles, the three-star general said he was not familiar with the report.
The draft report of the secretary of state's International Security Advisory Board, disclosed by The Washington Times in October, said that China's aggressive strategic nuclear buildup, including new long-range missiles and ballistic missile submarines, should be countered with expanded missile defenses, among other measures.
"To avoid the emerging creep toward a Chinese assured destruction [nuclear] capability, the United States will need to pursue new missile defense capabilities, including taking full advantage of space," the report said. "The United States must explore the potential that space provides for missile defenses across the spectrum of threats."
Disclosure of the report followed a recent $5-million congressional appropriation for the Pentagon to study space-based missile defenses, specifically a space-based interceptor program.
China routinely protests U.S. missile defenses in meetings with U.S. officials. China also is believed to be behind an international political influence program designed to curtail U.S. missile defenses, fearing that eventually the limited ground-based interceptor program now in place to counter North Korean and future Iranian missiles will be expanded to cover China's missile forces.