Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Growing Relevance of Missile Defense in the 21st Century

Lieutenant General Lester Lyles
Director, United States Ballistic Missile Defense Organization

The 15th NATO Workshop presented us with a wonderful opportunity to discuss the many challenges we face in creating policy and military capabilities that will protect our forces and our allies. I am delighted that the conferencewas held in Vienna, one of the world’s great cities and one of Europe’s most beautiful since its settlement by Celtic peoples before the dawn of the Christian era. While taking part in the Workshop there, I was reminded that this historic city has also been a city of hope. When the Congress of Vienna met in 1814–1815, Europe had been at war for a quarter of a century. Indeed, Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo was still nine days away when the great powers of Europe completed work on the agreements that would restructure the Continent and codify the rules that still govern diplomacy. And throughout our own long Cold War, we often found ourselves looking hopefully toward Vienna, scene of summits and arms control negotiations that helped keep the peace.


One can argue that the situation we face today is more complex and more compelling than that facing European leaders in 1815. The Atlantic-European community is much broader and the post-Cold War issues are potentially more dangerous and deadly. Old World ethnic animosities and regional confrontations loom large in a world that is home to growing numbers of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

Someone once suggested that the times we live in should be marked “Subject to Change Without Notice.” As the Director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) for almost two years now, this statement strikes me as particularly fitting. Pakistan’s April ‘98 launch of the Ghauri medium-range ballistic missile and the recent nuclear saber-rattling in South Asia remind us that this world is full of dangerous surprises. Almost without warning, the specter of conflict and increased tension in South Asia and the possible use of nuclear weapons, unspeakably horrifying and with global consequences, are on everyone’s mind. Clearly, our work here today, as Allies and friends striving to cope in uncertain and unstable times, is a significant part of the shared security-building enterprise we are engaged in.

While the primary goal of the United States remains one of stopping proliferation, the events in South Asia reinforce my view that the United States and its European allies must be prepared to deter and defend against the threat or use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and the missiles that carry them. To be sure, ballistic and cruise missiles will pose a very real danger to our troops and our homelands in the decades ahead. However, all of the current international trends give me considerable confidence that our present political and military thinking, our counterproliferation strategy, and the mission of my own organization are the best antidote to that danger and increasingly relevant to our common security concerns.


Despite the hopes we place on the Missile Technology Control Regime and on our on-again/off-again negotiations with North Korea, the Pakistani test of the Ghauri medium-range ballistic missile in April of 1998 demonstrates unequivocally that ballistic missile proliferation continues. The Ghauri’s range of 1,500 km indicates a significant increase in capability over the 300-km Scud B. And while the links between the Pakistani MRBM program and the North Korean No Dong program have yet to be clearly established, the shape and specifications released so far for the Ghauri missile indicate that there are far more than coincidental similarities.

Likewise the Iranian medium-range ballistic missile currently in development and approaching its first test launch also appears to be similar in shape and specifications to the North Korean No Dong. In fact, a strong case may be made for the existence of a North Korea/Pakistan/Iran axis of cooperation that is of even greater concern when we add the further support of certain Russian entities. Given recent developments and indications, it is possible that Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea are looking to develop even longer-range ballistic missiles and to combine that work with programs for developing weapons of mass destruction.

This pattern of international trade in more advanced, longer-range ballistic missiles appears to extend even further, indeed right up to the southern European frontier. There is close coordination with and sales to Syria, and evidence that Iran has offered assistance to Libya for its Al Fatah ballistic missile program, as well as possible sales of its MRBM missiles.

Each of these countries I have mentioned also has dedicated significant resources to research and/or development of an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. And now, to our utter astonishment, we are witnessing blatant, chilling developments in South Asia. India’s five nuclear test explosions (and Pakistan’s response, with its own nuclear tests) have given us pause over how quickly optimism about our security can turn to pessimism. India halted development of its 2,000-km Agni MRBM in 1995. But following Pakistan’s Ghauri flight tests and its recent nuclear tests, can an Indian decision to resume flight testing of the Agni be far away? Indeed, it is conceivable that India could arm with nuclear warheads the Agni and the shorter-range Prithvi ballistic missile that it has already fielded.

In other words, there has been a dramatic turn of events this past year. Most notably, there has been the clear proliferation of a new class of longer-range ballistic missiles, a reality that appears to be centered on closer cooperation between several nations potentially hostile to NATO and to its European Partners, as well as to their interests.

So how do we deal with this problem of proliferation? Current U.S. and NATO counterproliferation policy is an important guide in our defense planning.


The U.S. response to the challenges of proliferation comprises three essential steps. The first is to prevent (or at least slow down) proliferation. Successful prevention relies heavily on the participation of and coordination between many U.S. government departments and agencies, allied nations, and international organizations. However, the U.S., and indeed most other nations, also recognize that determined countries will still obtain the capabilities for weapons of mass destruction and cruise and ballistic missiles despite our best efforts to prevent it. Therefore, the second step is to try to deter nations from using or threatening to use these capabilities. Our investments in this effort and fielding the necessary defenses can provide a major disincentive for nations to use their missiles and Weapons of Mass Destruction. In other words, defenses are now joining the continuing role of nuclear weapons in deterring war and “adventurism.”

But since deterrence may also fail, the third step in U.S. counterproliferation policy recognizes that U.S. forces must be equipped to fight, survive, and win in situations in which an adversary might use chemical or biological weapons delivered by cruise or ballistic missiles. Therefore, DOD’s acquisition strategy strives to field ballistic missile defense systems to meet the warfighters’ requirements. My agency is responsible for managing, directing, and executing the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Program, a key part of our military strategy and counterproliferation policy.

Theater Air and Missile Defenses

Today, BMDO is developing missile defenses to serve two fundamental purposes. The first is to protect through Theater Air and Missile Defenses (or TAMD) the forces we send abroad as well as the forces of our Allies and friends, whether they are sent to perform in regional contingencies or peacetime missions. The second objective is to be prepared to provide the U.S. with nationwide protection against limited missile threats from rogue nations should the situation warrant it. More specifically, my agency must be ready to field a limited National Missile Defense (NMD) system within three years of a decision to deploy such a system.

Because we recognize that we will need TAMD and NMD systems well into the next century, we also have the crucial mission of maintaining a strong missile defense technology base. Just as today’s programs benefit from technologies developed in the SDIO (Strategic Defense Initiative Organization) days, we cannot afford not to maintain the technological seed corn for tomorrow’s missile defense needs. Our efforts in this area are intended to provide us with alternative technologies and components for our ongoing developmental programs and risk mitigation, as well as to continue building a pathway to the future.

In order to provide a near-leak-proof Theater and Air Missile Defense shield for U.S. forces, Allies, and friends in different regions, BMDO has adopted a “Family of Systems’ concept, a flexible configuration of systems capable of joint and combined force operations. We believe that this approach is best because one system cannot do it all. Threat systems are so varied, and mission demands so complex, that a layered defense is required to allow multiple shot opportunities and to meet the demanding requirements set before us. Multiple systems working in unison greatly enhance the probability of destroying incoming missiles. For these reasons, BMDO is pursuing the acquisition and integration of lower- and upper-tier land- and sea-based systems.

The land-based Patriot PAC-3 is the most mature of our TAMD systems. Currently in the engineering and manufacturing development (or EMD) phase, the PAC-3 is being fielded in three phased upgrades called “configurations.” The first two configurations have already been fielded, and the third will provide the new hit-to-kill interceptor missile plus additional communications, radar, and ground support system improvements. The first intercept flight is scheduled for this year. When PAC-3 development is complete, the system will be deployed with our army air defense brigades as well as with Allies such as Germany and the Netherlands.

Our sea-based, lower-tier TAMD system, the so-called Navy Area program, is also in the development phase following the successful intercept in December 1996 of a Lance missile target by a modified Standard Missile 2 Block IVA at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. This intercept was the first successful intercept of a Theater Ballistic Missile target for the SM2, and achieved all flight objectives, including the demonstration of infrared acquisition, tracking, handover, and guidance. As with the Patriot PAC-3, I anticipate that the Navy Area Defense capability will be deployed on Allied ships including some of the new trinational frigates in Europe.

The PAC-3 and the Navy Area system, our two most mature programs, are the highest priority efforts in the TAMD program today. But these systems are intended to effectively counter today’s threats, including the SCUD and its derivatives. We also need next-generation, upper-tier systems to deal with longer-range threats like the No Dong and the Ghauri. Our land-based, upper-tier Theater High Altitude Area Defense (or THAAD) program is currently in what we call its program definition and risk reduction phase. However, while we believe that the THAAD program has made some significant progress, especially with the development of its ground base radar and command/control and launcher, we are still experiencing difficulties with the hit-to-kill interceptor. We believe we now understand the problems with the interceptor and have taken the necessary corrective steps. We also hope the overall program will soon be back on track and that we will have success with the next flight test.

Like the THAAD system, the Navy Theater Wide program, our sea-based, upper-tier system, will also provide protection against medium- and long-range TBMs targeted against vital political and military assets. Depending on geography and the deployment location of the Aegis ship, this system would be able to effect ascent, midcourse, and descent phase intercepts. Navy Theater Wide is also in the program definition and risk reduction phase of development.


Meeting TAMD requirements demands a combination of weapons and sensors as well as battle management command, control, and communications (BMC3) on land, at sea, and in the air and space. For these reasons, our acquisition strategy not only emphasizes “jointness,” it also emphasizes cooperation with Allies. In other words, we plan to fight together in a coalition of Allied forces, and this necessitates close working relationships and integration with our army, navy, air force, and marines; dialogue with our battlefield commanders and our Allies; and, finally, active participation in exercises. This comprehensive approach is putting us on the path to being able to deploy interoperable missile defenses for the benefit of the coalition warfighter.

As Under Secretary of Defense Gansler pointed out, the new security environment has compelled DOD to adopt a new line of thinking, not only about how best to exploit the current “revolution in military affairs” and “revolution in business affairs” to better meet national security objectives, but also how to maintain its competitive edge and improve commercial and military integration. This adjustment in our way of doing business also points to expanded engagement with our friends and Allies. Therefore I’d like to share with you some thoughts on the growing importance of international armaments cooperation, especially as it relates to the BMDO mission.

International cooperation structured to get the right equipment into the field and to support the necessary level of interoperability for modern joint and coalition warfare will not only allow us to leverage Allied government investments but also enable us to gain the interoperability and Alliance cohesion we need for fighting together efficiently as a team. BMDO continues to develop strategies for cooperating with our Allies and friends in the area of ballistic missile defense. Our current focus is on three international objectives. The first and, arguably, the most important, objective is interoperability. We intend to enhance security and coalition warfighting capabilities by ensuring that TAMD systems deployed by our Allies are interoperable with those fielded by U.S. forces. Because we will fight as a coalition, interoperability must be the watchword. If we do not continue toward interoperability, eventually we will have not only incompatible equipment, but incompatible doctrine as well. Indeed, it is essential that we have BMC3 and interoperability among U.S. forces and those of our coalition partners.

The second reason for international cooperation is burden-sharing where there are common requirements. It is our goal to reduce the costs and share the risks and benefits of the cooperative design, development, co-production, and procurement of TMD systems.

Our third and final goal is technology cooperation. We see great value in leveraging the experience base, industry, and unique capabilities and systems afforded by our Allies and friends to further enhance the effectiveness of U.S. TBMD systems.

BMDO-Allied Cooperation

Currently, there are two budding opportunities for BMDO to involve our European Allies directly in the development of missile defenses. The first is the lower-tier system called the Medium Extended Air Defense System (or MEADS), which is being pursued by the United States, Germany, and Italy. This system meets an urgent requirement for a system that will protect deployed maneuver forces from all current and emerging air and missile threats. Intended as a replacement for the older Improved HAWK air defense system (widely deployed with Allied forces), MEADS has been a natural program for cooperative development. During this work, the countries involved have increased interoperability, shared costs, reinforced transatlantic relationships, and enabled the more efficient sharing of the missile defense mission with other nations in future regional contingencies. MEADS will add Italy to the list of TMD-capable nations and will offer a procurement opportunity to other NATO nations.

MEADS is a particularly appropriate example of the new, March 1997 International Armaments cooperation policy that directs the services and others within DOD to cooperate internationally to the maximum extent possible within current U.S. policy guidelines. It is fair to say that this will be a major test of transatlantic armaments cooperation. The Department’s leadership is working hard with our Allied partners first to build a reliable cost estimate for development, production, and fielding of the system, and second to find the necessary funds to proceed with the next stage of design and development.

The second opportunity for long-term cooperation among NATO Allies in the area of ballistic missile defense stems from the recent decision by the NATO Conference of National Armaments Directors, or CNAD, to proceed with a program plan to identify the steps and resources necessary to establish, manage, and coordinate within NATO programs for a layered Theater Ballistic Missile defense. NATO will be able to take these steps building on an existing Military Operational Requirement within a policy framework developed by the so-called Defense Group on Proliferation and given approval by the North Atlantic Council about two years ago. The program plan will move NATO to consider the addition of upper-layer interceptors to an architecture already likely to include: (1) Battle Management and Control through modifications to NATO ACCS; (2) Shared Early Warning from U.S. overhead assets and added ground and sea-based sensors; and (3) lower-layer interceptors, such as Patriot and MEADS, which will probably be acquired by individual nations and assigned to NATO command.


The United States and NATO are making steady progress in a very complex array of BMD programs. These programs will be an integral part of our future defense posture—recognition of the fact that we will continue to live in times in which circumstances facing defense planners on both sides of the Atlantic are “Subject to Change Without Notice.”

Our work with our Allies remains a vital element of DOD’s overarching defense-planning initiatives and an integral part of BMDO’s acquisition mission. We know that the threats posed by NBC weapons and the proliferation of missile technologies and systems will not go away. So neither must our resolve to meet this ominous challenge to our security and our cherished way of life.


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