Will Obama kill missile defense in new treaty?

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to kill expensive missile-defense programs. John Noonan believes Obama may have fulfilled that promise in a pledge made yesterday that would “all but kill missile defense” systems that are proving successful. The administration broadly hinted at banning the use of ballistic missiles in space:

The Obama administration on Monday unveiled a space policy that renounces the unilateral stance of the Bush administration and instead emphasizes international cooperation, including the possibility of an arms control treaty that would limit the development of space weapons.

In recent years, both China and the United States have destroyed satellites in orbit, raising fears about the start of a costly arms race that might ultimately hurt the United States because it dominates the military use of space. China smashed a satellite in January 2007, and the United States did so in February 2008.

The new space policy explicitly says that Washington will “consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.”

Noonan warns:

[T]his sounds like a veiled reference to the PAROS treaty (prevention of arms race in outer space) or–at the very least–a like-minded document. Because certain types of ballistic, air-launched, and ship-launched missiles can be modified to kill satellites, such a treaty would be devastating to the national security and military capabilities of the United States (and all but kill missile defense). THAAD interceptors, which meet their targets just outside the atmosphere, would almost certainly be banned by a PAROS style treaty. Like the START follow-on, we’d be doing most of the cutting, instead of powers like Russia and China–while entrusting our vast commercial and military space assets to the good faith of adversarial regimes.

Interestingly, this comes just as the THAAD (terminal high altitude area defense) system has delivered success after success. Its latest test hit a bullseye by killing a missile launched from a surface ship, as described by the Missile Defense Agency in a release today:

The Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Army soldiers of the 6th Air Defense Artillery Brigade from Fort Bliss, Texas, successfully conducted an intercept test for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense element of the nation’s Ballistic Missile Defense System today. A target missile was launched at approximately 9:32 p.m. Hawaii time, June 28 (3:32 a.m. EDT, June 29), and about five minutes later a THAAD interceptor missile was launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) off the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Preliminary indications are that planned flight test objectives were achieved.

The test involved the intercept of a short-range unitary target in the endoatmosphere (inside the earth’s atmosphere). The target, representing a short-range ballistic missile threat, was launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform located in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii. Upon acquiring and tracking the target, the THAAD system developed a fire control solution and launched an interceptor missile, which acquired and successfully intercepted the target missile. The intercept occurred at the lowest altitude to date for the THAAD interceptor missile, which has the capability to engage targets both inside and outside the earth’s atmosphere.

McKittrick at Closing Velocity, who has kept a close eye on missile-defense issues, translates this into plain English to make clear just how significant this test success is for national defense:

1.  It was a nighttime intercept, which has been touted by skeptics to be some sort of impossible challenge.

2.  The target SCUD was launched from the decommissioned USS Tripoli, mimicking the oft-referenced scenario of a sneaky, rust-bucket freighter lurking off the coast of a major city.

3.  The test incorporated other elements of our layered Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), with a Patriot unit in Hawaii:

The PATRIOT system, located at PMRF, conducted engagement coordination with THAAD and conducted upper tier debris mitigation exercises during the intercept engagement.

4. The warfighters manning the THAAD unit had no warning and did not know when the “battle” would occur.

He also has the video:

Without a doubt, we need to defend ourselves against rogue regimes with ballistic-missile capabilities, such as Iran and North Korea.  Even if we could only hit land-based launches, we would be derelict in our duty to secure this nation if we did not develop a defense system when it can be reasonably expected to succeed.  This shows that we can target and hit an unannounced sea-based launch within a few minutes as well, making the system even more desirable.

We cannot give away this capability just to succor favor from Russia and China, not as long as we have to deal with Iran and North Korea.  If China wants us to end our missile defense systems, even in a mutually-verifiable manner, then it needs to exert its influence on both of those countries — which are both clients of Beijing — to end their dalliance with nuclear weapons, and preferably to end their tyrannies as well.  Until that happens, and until other belligerents eschew ballistic missile technology, the government has the duty to defend this nation against all threats, including and perhaps especially ballistic missiles.