Missile defense gives edge on battlefield
May 2, 2012
In a career that spanned 34 years of active military service and 15 years of civilian service that culminated with the title of secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, retired Lt. Gen. Malcolm O'Neill said he has seen the Army shrug off advances in missile technology to stay with the tried-and-true.
In a way, it's the nature of the business -- protecting Soldiers in theater and the nation's interest today takes priority over the development of future missile systems to defend against the threats of tomorrow.
"Our research-and-development focus is too short term. In the Army, unfortunately, we focus on helping the troops in contact today," he said. "On the one hand, we have a weapon system that won't be ready for four or five years that could modernize the Army's capability to defend itself. At the same time, we have sitting there weapons like the Patriot and THAAD that have proven themselves."
O'Neill made his comments as the keynote speaker during the 14th annual Association of the U.S. Army Missiles Conference at the Von Braun Center on April 24, where about 400 local military and industry leaders met to discuss issues pertaining to future missile development. The theme for the conference was "Maximizing Capabilities and Targets of Opportunities in Austere Times."
While the Army continues to rely on missile technology for the 1970s and '80s, O'Neill said it has given low priority to energy directed projects in the form of high-energy lasers, such as a 10 mill watt that could take out a satellite and the 20 mill watt that could "hit Russian strategic missile in their stands."
Some of the delay in new missile defense and laser technology development has been caused by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group, "that said missile defense was impossible, that missile defense was too costly and, worst of all, missile defense would make our potential enemies nervous," O'Neill said.
In 1989, when the U.S. had a strong stance on missile defense, the world watched as the Soviet Union started coming apart and President Ronald Reagan called for the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"We want the world to know -- then and now -- that America has a decisive capability in missile defense and you don't want to start something with America because we can stop you and destroy you," O'Neill said.
And yet, the nation's current financial crisis is threatening the U.S. strength as a military powerhouse.
"DoD and the Army take it the worst," O'Neill said. "When the going gets tough, you put the Army in. But when we're at peace, it's whatever. I don't understand because the hardest system to produce is a Soldier. And our Soldiers need to be trained to be able to make real-time decisions between life and death.
"I know we have the best Army in the world. But the problem is the bad guys always pick us to fight. … The Soldier, he's the one who is in trouble. This kid with no training needs to have decisive weapons when he goes to war and executes the strategy of the United States of America."
All Army decisions should come down to the Soldier in the field, he said, pointing out that the Soldier on the ground and the missile technology he has to defend himself always determines who has the decisive edge in battle.
If the Army fails to modernize its missile systems, the U.S. will risk having an adversary who is undeterred, losing the faith of U.S. allies, losing confidence in our own military capabilities, losing the national will to protect our values and losing the next war, he said.
In its military strategy, the U.S., through the Office of the Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, needs to support forces engaged in overseas contingency operations, achieve affordable programs, develop better buying power, retain a strong industrial base, strengthen the acquisition work force and protect the future, he added.
And the U.S. needs to look at past victories to find the way to its future military and peacetime dominance.
"The Gulf War has already demonstrated that accurate, guided weapons are the basic firepower of high-tech warfare," O'Neill said.
New missile systems must offer advanced capabilities at affordable costs, and they must be part of an overall strategy to defend the U.S. and its allies.
"We are the only country on earth that can stop the growth of a significant imperial power," O'Neill said.
In the end, the U.S. might rests on the shoulders of its Army and the missile systems its war fighters depend on.
"An airplane is not going to win a war. A ship is not going to win a war. The Marines are great, but they are small. It will take an Army to win the war," O'Neill said.
Among the conference's other speakers, Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, commander of the Aviation and Missile Command, said that advances in field level maintenance have made a big difference in overall readiness rates. In 2002, the readiness rate for missile systems was 78 percent. That readiness rate increased to 93 percent in 2011, surpassing the Army standard of 90 percent.
AMCOM is searching for efficiencies with its partnerships and through its processes.
"We believe the way ahead is about partnerships with industry," Rogers said. "The more we partner for the future the more we strengthen our industrial base and keep our technical capabilities."
AMCOM now has 17 working areas where improvements are being made to increase efficiencies. In the past five years, $14.9 million has been saved on Hellfire missile systems just by eliminating unnecessary guidance system replacements, he said.
In missile development news, Col. Tony Brown, project manager for THAAD at the Missile Defense Agency, said the Department of Defense has identified THAAD as the first major MDA program to transfer to the Army.
"THAAD is going through a huge transformation from a largely test, development and engineering office team to a full life cycle program office," Brown said. "AMCOM has helped with that because when a system is going out in the field you need all the logistical help you can get."
On Feb. 9, AMCOM commander Rogers approved conditional materiel release of THAAD and less than 30 days later there were Army orders to deploy a THAAD battery. That indicates the importance of the system to the war fighter, Brown said, adding that there will eventually be six THAAD batteries.
Brig. Gen. Ole Knudson, the program executive officer for missiles and space, said the Army's missile systems are proving themselves valuable every day on the battlefield.
"There's a lot of missile activity in supporting the war fighter," he said. "I don't think there's a question about relevance. But there is a question about money."
The program executive office's budget in 2009 for developing and acquiring missile systems was $4.4 billion. Today, that budget is $3.3 billion. While foreign military sales of about $10 billion to 36 countries this year keeps missile manufacturing "hot," there is concern that as budgets decline so will industry's capabilities in the area of missile development and production.
Funding needs to be available, Knudson said, to implement the Army's integrated missile defense strategy, maintain a viable missile industrial base, maintain missile system developmental expertise, continue better buying power and cost savings efficiencies, and generate foreign military sales volume.
"The number one challenge is funding uncertainty," he said.