Why America Needs Broader Missile Defense Capabilities
China and Russia have made great strides in developing hypersonic missiles that could deliver nuclear payloads and evade current missile defenses.
China is in the midst of a nuclear buildup that merits a strong response.
China’s increasing belligerence combined with the discovery of what are believed to be 120 missile silos in a 700 square mile deployment area near Yumen City, located in north-central China, is a reminder that the United States needs to develop a broader missile-defense network and push ahead with nuclear modernization.
For the first time since the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb in 1949, the United States finds itself amid a three-way nuclear arms race. We are in an arms race whether the Biden administration and the Democrats want to acknowledge it or not. Inaction and playing ostrich will not make it disappear.
Close Chinese-Russian military ties raise concern that the two powers could pool their nuclear arsenals in case of war to attack the United States and its allies.
“I would also like to single out the words from this statement that say that our ties now surpass such a form of interstate interaction as the military-political alliances of the Cold War era,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month. “This is the most important guideline for deepening relations between Russia and China in all areas without exception.”
The Trump administration made arms control with China a priority, but the Biden administration has been largely quiet.
President Joe Biden began his term by giving Vladimir Putin an unconditional renewal of the 2010 START treaty without any preconditions on Russian nuclear modernization or including China in an arms-control regime. From a treaty perspective, China is off the leash and has zero treaty restrictions to its buildup or the number of nuclear missiles it can develop.
The Biden administration requested $8.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency in its May budget wish list, down from $10.5 billion in the current fiscal year. Greater investment is needed because the costs of doing nothing will be much less than the costs associated with the destruction of American cities or other potential nuclear targets.
The George W. Bush administration built the first real missile-defense system. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) has a narrow focus that protects American targets from North Korea was deployed in the 2000s. A total of forty-four interceptors are located at Ft. Greeley, Alaska and at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
This current missile-defense program provides no real protection against the growing threats from Russia or China. Only twelve of the nineteen tests of the GMD have succeeded in the past two decades. Meanwhile, forty-three of fifty-three tests of the shipborne Aegis Missile Defense have succeeded. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense that provides mobile, deployable missile defense has a perfect record of sixteen successful tests and sixteen intercepts.
“Russia has actually fielded the hypersonic technology. China has been developing hypersonic technology,” Rep. Mike Turner, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, said earlier this month at The Hudson Institute. “We don’t have in place what is necessary to ensure that we both even up on the sensing side and the response side . . . to defend against such weapons, and at the same time we’re not fielding them ourselves.”
China and Russia have made great strides in developing hypersonic missiles that could deliver nuclear payloads and evade current missile defenses. The Russians claim their newly fielded Tsirkon hypersonic glide vehicle is invisible to radar; it would be particularly lethal if it could carry a nuclear warhead. China’s new hypersonic DF-17 cruise missile could carry a nuclear warhead.
Technological advances could make ideas from the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative such as “Brilliant Pebbles” practical, and they could fill in the capability gap left by shortcomings in ground-based missile-defense platforms. “Brilliant Pebbles” would use satellite-based interceptors that target intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in their boost phase, eliminating them before they can deploy their nuclear warheads.
Another possible component could be a series of networked laser satellites that also could destroy ICBMs during the launch phase.
These newly discovered Chinese silos could potentially house DF-5C nuclear missiles that U.S. intelligence analysts believe could carry multiple warheads. China is well on its way to having the two hundred ICBMs that the U.S. Defense Department sounded an alarm about last year. Having multiple warheads on each ICBM would multiply the threat to the American homeland.
“Construction began in March 2020, although the vast majority of construction occurred after February 2021, suggesting an extremely rapid pace of construction over the past few months,” nuclear weapons analysts Jeffrey Lewis and Decker Eveleth wrote on the Arms Control Wonk blog. “(In earlier conversations we stated that construction began after February 2021, although a closer examination of historical imagery shows that we simply overlooked some earlier construction.)”
Lewis previously dismissed top Trump arms negotiator Amb. Marshall Billingslea’s warning that China was undertaking a nuclear arms buildup in October 2020, telling CNN he didn’t see any reason for alarm. The Trump administration was aware of what China was up to, according to a source with first-hand knowledge.
The Defense Department estimated that China had one hundred missile silos in total last year. This latest buildup suggests that China has discarded its longstanding claim to not having a no first-strike nuclear doctrine, a senior Trump administration official said under the condition of anonymity. Recent Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda threatening a nuclear strike against Japan if it defends Taiwan reinforces this concern, and the proliferation of the coronavirus pandemic around the globe shows that the CCP has little interest in human life.
This development shows that China’s leadership hopes to have enough nuclear missiles to be able to survive a strike from the American nuclear deterrent.
The Biden administration’s decision to spend trillions on pet projects in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which the CCP let proliferate globally, killing four million worldwide, shows it has little excuse not to provide similar defense against a nuclear attack by a hostile peer like China. Although the chances of a nuclear exchange are statistically considered remote, there isn’t an excuse not to put defenses into place now instead of waiting until later.
Investments on par with former President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative are needed to protect the homeland and America’s allies from nuclear attack amid the breakdown of international arms-controls.
John Rossomando is a senior analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.