DoD Beefing-Up West Coast Missile Defense: Top 10 Facts You Need to Know

Sensing a growing increase in the overall ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) threat, the US Department of Defense has decided to make a few rather expensive changes. Here are 10 pertinent facts to get you up to speed.

1. The new missile intercept systems will be in place by 2017


On February 15th, the Pentagon announced plans to significantly bolster the US missile defense capability. The initiative comes on the heels of what it called a faster-than-anticipated nuclear weapons development program in North Korea.

2. The increase in missiles is a result of North Korea’s nuclear threats


Angry about a fresh round of UN sanctions on the country, North Korean leader and third generation dictator Kim Jong-Un, recently threatened the US and South Korea with a preemptive nuclear strike. North Korea’s volatile young leader has even declared the 1953 War Armistice as nullified. Brash moves, even for a country known for making hyperbolic and largely grandiose statements. Most agree that the regime is still several years away from such a capability, but the DoD has decided to get out ahead of the threat.

3. The additional systems will cost a billion dollars


Given the across-the-board cuts that the DoD is currently dealing with, a billion dollar investment underscores how seriously officials are taking missile defense, as well as North Korea’s behavior. During a Pentagon news conference, newly minted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel helped justify the cost by saying that, “We will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitment to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression…”

4. Alaska’s Fort Greely will receive 14 new missile interceptor systems


Primarily, the plan calls for fortifying Alaska’s existing systems with an almost 50 percent increase. With 30 missiles already in place, Alaska already houses the majority of missile interceptor systems. A new total of 44 by 2017 will greatly increase the US’ ability to deal with threats from the North Korean region. One of the ways this will be accomplished is by the reactivation of Missile Field 1, a presently moth-balled site that, in 2011 and at a cost of $200 million, lawmakers had decided was too expensive to recommission without a legitimate threat.

5. Vanderberg Air Force Base in California currently maintains 4 interceptor systems


Existing systems in California will also be integrated into the new, more comprehensive plan. As additional testing and development is completed, it is likely that the California sites will receive upgrades.

6. Japan will receive a second missile-defense radar system


Japan already has one strategically placed missile detecting radar, but a second has been approved as part of the new initiatives.

7. The missile-defense systems have a shaky track record

In testing, the interceptor missiles have only managed to hit dummy targets approximately 50 percent of the time. Those are’nt particularly good odds, especially with entire cities at risk. Some lawmakers argue that it is not reasonable to commit funding prior to better results in testing. James N. Miller, under secretary at the Pentagon, has assured everyone of a “fly before we buy” approach that will involve more testing and development, albeit accelerated.

8. It is part of a two tiered strategy of deterrence
Interceptor missile systems are only half of the strategy used to help mitigate the threat of an enemy nuclear missile attack. The additional consequence of an offending entities likely total destruction is the other half. The US maintains the ability to counter any nuclear missile threat with a massive arsenal, based on the so-called nuclear triad. A diversified portfolio of ICBMs, bomber aircraft, and submarines, means that the US nuclear offensive capability is virtually immune to first-strike destruction, theoretically guaranteeing a catastrophic counterattack to the initial agressor. This Cold War strategy, often referred to as Assured Mutual Destruction, is the primary deterrant of any sort of nuclear attack. Though, it should be pointed out that a nuclear offensive by North Korea may not result in a nuclear counterattack. Some analysts believe that much more strategic and targeted weapons with less long-term consequences may be preferred.

9. There are also 4 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers stationed off the Korean peninsula

arleigh burke destroyer

The ships were originally dispatched to the area as part of training maneuvers, but as a result of North Korea’s bellicose language, the ships will maintain their location.

10. Additional East Coast sites may be necessary to deter Iran
The rhetoric out of Iran has not been nearly as aggressive, or generally as unpredictable, as that of North Korea. Still, Iran has resisted all international orders for it to cease its nuclear energy program, widely thought to be a front for weapons development. Recently, Iran’s actions have been openly hostile towards the US, which maintains a round the clock surveillance initiative on the country. As Iran also edges closer to being capable of fielding a weapon, it may be necessary to take the additional precaution of creating east coast missile intercept sites. As a precursor to this, Congressionally mandated environmental impact studies have already been given the go-ahead at possible locations.