Joint Japan-US Missile Shoot-Down Succeeds (In Raising Old Questions)
Some technology on display in today's news. The announcement of a planned successful shoot-down of a US dummy ("Standard Missile-3") target by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) may offer some Japanese citizens some measure of protection against some North Korean missiles.
Lest some readers be confused into thinking of this event as a quantum jump in President Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative, bear in mind that that the interceptor missile used was the Aegis. This is evolutionary stuff. The Aegis Combat System, while it has been upgraded over the years, gained historic notoriety when it was used, or rather misused, by the crew of the USS Vincennes to shoot down an Iranian passenger airliner in 1988, killing 290. (Subsequent investigations showed that crew error was at fault). Technical improvements to Aegis have been funded for decades.
In case it wasn’t covered in your high school history curriculum, the idea of curtailing ABM's has been debated before. An Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty was first proposed in 1967 by the Johnson Administration, and the ABM Treaty was signed between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1972. The U.S. withdrew from the treaty unilaterally in 2002.
Debate over ABM vehicles continues to this day, most recently as part of Obama’s plan not to base missiles in Eastern Europe. Do ABMs fuel a costly arms race and destabilize the world? Or are they necessary to meet new threats from ever more powerful adversaries?
Hawks and Doves will resume mutual name-calling at the political implications of this event, but there’s more at stake than playing missile chicken with the North Koreans and the Chinese. The latter is reportedly working on maneuvering warheads, which may not be possible to stop with today’s ground-based/sea-based ABMs. Perhaps more relevant in today's economic austerity, the Navy is paying Lockheed Martin $1B over 5 years for the Aegis BMD system, which is deployed on 21 ships around the world, including two Japanese JMSDF ships. Beyond those 22, there are 92 Aegis-equipped ships in use around the world – including South Korea. Additional funds are required for other Aegis-related components, such as the Aegis Combat System.Continued on the next page