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Missile Defense Cuts are a Mistake

North Korea, under its new leader Kim Jong Un, made international news recently when its long-range missiles disintegrated just seconds after a test launch.

While many breathed a collective sigh of relief, the rogue nation’s latest embarrassment may only strengthen its resolve to prove its nuclear capabilities.

Our military leaders have said that North Korea is developing a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, and engineers in Iran and North Korea may well be sharing information that could expedite their long-range missile capabilities.

“We’re within an inch of war almost every day in that part of the world,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said about North Korea in a recent CNN interview, “and we just have to be very careful about what we say and what we do.”

The message is clear: Now is not the time for the U.S. to let its guard down.

Yet one look at President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget shows that the administration may be doing just that. The current budget proposal before Congress slashes $810 million from missile defense programs in 2013 and calls for a whopping $3.6 billion in cuts over the next five years.

Most worrisome is that the president puts a key element of our missile defense system, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, on the chopping block. This system has been designed to take down enemy missiles — like those being developed by North Korea — in outer space long before they get anywhere near U.S. targets.

Cuts to this critical program include six Ground-Based Interceptor silos at Fort Greely, which are manned by the Alaska National Guard assigned to the 49th Missile Defense Battalion.

In addition, the president’s budget would eliminate money for the deployment of additional GBIs in Alaska or at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California — or even to maintain all of the silos in both locations.

Underfunding missile defense at Fort Greely could prove to be a perilous mistake, one that we successfully defeated in 2009. These interceptors provide the first line of defense for the U.S. Not only attacks on Alaska and Hawaii but along much of the western part of the U.S. These areas cover California, the world’s ninth-largest economy, and nearly 50 million people.

Equally troubling, Obama’s cancellation of the third GBI site in Poland leaves portions of the U.S.’s East Coast also vulnerable to attack.

To address this national security gap, the Obama administration has been singularly focused on an entirely new missile, known as the Standard Missile-3 Block IIB. The problem is that that interceptor won’t be ready to protect the U.S. for another decade.

In a recent letter to Panetta, Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) of the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee stated that the IIB missile “is a brand-new concept, still entirely on the drawing board. Fundamental technical issues like its speed and acceleration, size, cost and even basing modes (i.e., land-based or sea-based) are not yet known or understood.”

We need a better solution much sooner — something congressional leaders have called a “hedge.” I have every confidence that the best minds in the missile defense business could figure out a way to defend the U.S. from ICBM attacks in the next three to five years using both GBIs and SM-3s. The key will be maximizing missiles that are already in development.

Yet again, the president’s budget falls short by axing funding to near-term SM-3 interceptors that are being tested and built right now. Instead, he directs those funds to the futuristic program that is a decade away. That is unacceptable.

Now is the time for Congress to step up and do what the president’s budget does not — fund a missile-defense system to protect the U.S.

Fiscal responsibility must mean more than just measuring which political party has the bigger budget ax — especially on issues of national defense. After all, perhaps the federal government’s most solemn responsibility is to protect its citizens and “provide for the common defense.”

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