WASHINGTON, D.C. – During today’s Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing on missile defense policies and programs, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the committee, pressed witnesses on the U.S.’s capability to intercept a potential Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) from Iran under President Obama’s new Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA). Inhofe also questioned witnesses on how the recently signed new START treaty between the U.S. and Russia could impact our ability to deter future attacks from countries like Iran and North Korea. Under the new START treaty, signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, the United States will be forced to reduce the nation’s nuclear arsenal as well as potentially slow or stop development and deployment of U.S. ballistic missiles.
When questioned, witnesses agreed with Inhofe that most intelligence reports predict that Iran will have the capability to launch an ICBM capable hitting the United States by 2015. Given this timeframe, Inhofe expressed concerns that the Obama administration’s new PAA, which will not be fully functional until 2020, leaves the United States less safe because of the 5 year gap between Iranian capabilities and our defense capabilities.
When pressed on when the Ground Based Interceptors placed at the Third Site in Poland would have been operational, witnesses claimed those capabilities would not have been available until 2017, a fact that Inhofe refuted. Based on a May 2008 briefing provided by the Missile Defense Agency, the Third Site would have been functional by 2013, two years before Iran’s anticipated capability.
Commenting about the hearing, Inhofe said, “When we compare the PAA with the Third Site, which I continue to support, there is vulnerability gap associated with PAA. Initially we would have had the ability to knock down a long range missile from Iran using the Third Site by 2013. That slipped to probably 2015 due to delays in negotiations. Switching to the new PAA system creates a 5 year period, 2015 to 2020, that leaves us more vulnerable, especially on the East Coast, to a potential long range ballistic missile attack from Iran.”
During the hearing, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) agreed with Inhofe saying, “But I also agree with Senator Inhofe and I share his concerns about what we lost when we changed from the so-called old to the new approach in terms of the Ground Based Interceptor. Look, last week General Burgess, the head of Defense Intelligence Agency was before this committee and paralleling what you said Dr. Miller. He told us their estimate was Iran could have an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that could hit the United States by 2015 with foreign assistance. The problem here is that the two stage Ground Based Interceptor was supposed to be done 2015, maybe 2017 as time went on. It is pretty clear in the exchange between Senator Inhofe and yourself, the SM-3 phase 2B that will be capable of hitting a missile fired from Iran to the United States won’t be ready until 2020 at best. So there is a gap there.”
Following the hearing, Inhofe pointed out that recent news reports have claimed that both China and North Korea are assisting Iran in reaching their nuclear goals. Inhofe said, “We talk about many issues up here in Washington, but the significance of us being more vulnerable to a nuclear attack is by far the most important, because the potential for millions of American lives to be lost in an attack would be unimaginably devastating.”
In addressing the START treaty, Inhofe said, “On this [START] treaty, it does affect our ability to protect America, and our national missile defense system. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Lavrov has pointed out the linkage of the START treaty to our missile defense system saying it is ‘clearly spelled out in the accord and is legally binding’. Despite the assurances of the Obama Administration, the treaty contains language that appears to tie reduction in nuclear weapons to missile defense and the Russian unilateral statement confirms this. This treaty increases risk to all Americans and I find it irresponsible of the Obama administration to disarm our country’s nuclear stockpile and limit our ability to defend ourselves at a time when Iran is developing long-range missiles that could potentially hit the United States by year 2015.”