US Vulnerable to Missile Attacks, Study Finds

Critical shortcomings in America’s network of early warning systems and missile interceptors could put the U.S. at risk of missile attacks.

Rachel Hirshfeld ,

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (C) spea
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (C) spea

A number of critical shortcomings in America’s network of early warning systems and missile interceptors could put the United States at risk of a potential missile attack, according to a new report by the National Research Council.

The council has recommended that President Obama adopt a more aggressive missile defense strategy, similar to the one proposed by former President George W. Bush. 

In so doing, the panel said, the president could set up the nation’s defenses to better defeat the long-range missiles that Iran may be developing.

“For too long, the U.S. has been committed to expensive missile defense strategies without sufficient consideration of the costs and real utility,” L. David Montague, the panel’s co-chairman, told The New York Times on Tuesday.

In the 260-page report, the panel recommended an overhaul that would make the antimissile system “far more effective,” including adding new sensors and interceptor rockets, as well as an additional base in Maine or upstate New York from which interceptors could be fired. The nation’s two existing bases are in California and Alaska.

The program is expected to cost approximately of $10 billion a year, for as long as it takes to develop and deploy the new missile defense systems. 

The council's recommendations run contrary to White House's missile defense plans, which have admonished the notion of an East Coast missile shield, rather focusing on establishing a new missile shield in Eastern Europe. 

In May, NATO approved U.S. plans to station a U.S. Navy ship armed with the Aegis anti-missile system in the Mediterranean, along with a radar station located in Turkey under the alliance's command. 

The report said the domestic defenses in place could probably handle crude missiles fired from North Korea, but nothing more sophisticated. It called the current generation of antimissile arms “fragile” and full of “shortcomings that limit their effectiveness against even modestly improved threats,” The Times reported.

The report called for developing a new generation of interceptor rockets that would be smaller and more capable, as well as five new radars at existing early warning sites. The panel said these radars, combined with sensors aboard the interceptors, would provide more time to identify enemy warheads and shoot at them repeatedly if the first shots failed.