Policy, tech

ABM “symbolism” versus ABM capability

Conservatives are piling on over the decision by the Obama administration to cancel plans to deploy a long-range missile defense system in eastern Europe, calling it everything from a “betrayal” of Poland to “appeasement” of Russia.   That, despite the fact that the move –which includes deploying a system that has already been demonstrated to work  (the Patriot missile system) for defense of Europe, and another  system that is much closer to being operational than the land-based option (the Aegis ABM system).

Additionally, the new plan calls for deploying a land-based version of the Aegis system, potentially in Poland and the Czech Republic, in 2015.

Ironically, the Aegis ABM system was already slotted for budget cuts.  It’s not even clear that the cancellation of the land-based system means that program’s revival,  The Navy recently contracted for SM-3s at a low manufacturing level–these are for short and medium range ballistic missiles, not the long-range.

Even Brent Scowcroft, George H. W. Bush’s national security advisor, has endorsed the decision. And the plan has the backing of  much of the Pentagon, and of the NATO alliance.  In fact, most of the conservative critics have pointed to commentary from the opposition parties in Poland and elsewhere, who are seizing on the decision for their own political gain.

Aegis ABM already has the backing — political, technical, and financial — of the US’s allies. Patriot offers Poland the “tripline” of US involvement in its defense.

The cancellation means that there will, in effect, be no ABM system designated for homeland defense.  The range of short- and medium- ballistic missiles from Iran isn’t a real threat to Europe–it’s more a threat to Israel.  The sea-based option is, in its current state, used best as a defense against attacks by North Korea.  But the symbolism of  “Star Wars” and an America shielded from all manners of  attack, and the direct involvement of allies (i.e. Poland and the Czech Republic) in the US’s direct defense is what conservatives were clinging to, and the loss of that is the fuel to their outrage.

Then again, the real  reason that conservatives are probably screaming over this is the damage cancellation of the program — along with several other programs, such as the F-22 and the vehicles in the now-defunct Future Combat Systems program — will do to the defense industry.  BAE Systems has been particularly stung by the recent turn of fate for many programs, having integrator roles in the F-22 and on the FCS team (plus losing a medium tactical vehicle contract recently).  With Boeing, BAE, and Lockheed all facing a shrinking pool of programs to profit from, some neocons may be seeing their PACs’ contributions shrinking.