House Republicans have come up with a new method of getting revenge on East Coast elites: putting missile interceptors outside their loft apartments.
A key congressional panel is demanding that the Pentagon start work on a missile defense battery on America’s East Coast, all to make sure an Iranian missile doesn’t wipe out New York, Philly or D.C. in the next three years. But Tehran’s longest-range missile can’t come anywhere near American shores. And the Defense Department already has a plan in motion to launch missile interceptors from Europe, just in case Iran somehow makes a giant technological leap in the near future.
In its markup of next year’s Pentagon budget, the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces panel inserted a provision that “require[s] the Director, Missile Defense Agency to develop a plan for the deployment of an East Coast site to be operational not later than the end of 2015.” And to encourage the Missile Defense Agency to get started, the subcommittee authorized an extra $100 million — provided the MDA actually comes up with an East Coast plan.
House Republican aides say the extra interceptors are a must because Iran may be armed with an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, in just three short years. “By the administration’s own estimate, Iran could have an ICBM by 2015. And if they get it by 2015, we’ve got a defense ready to go,” one aide tells Danger Room.
But predicting Tehran’s future weapons development is a notoriously imprecise art. Back in 1998, for example, a panel chaired by Donald Rumsfeld swore that an Iranian ICBM could be ready to fly by 2003. That doomsday forecast didn’t pan out, fortunately. Neither did an early-’90s intelligence estimate that the weapon would be online by 2010.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the Obama administration — despite the House aide’s words — has actually been rather hesitant to say exactly when Tehran will pose an intercontinental threat. The last two directors of national intelligence declined to make predictions (.pdf) during congressional testimony about when the Iranian ICBM would materialize. A 2010 report on Iran’s military power (.pdf) did say that “with sufficient foreign assistance Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015.” But there was no such timeline in the Defense Department’s Ballistic Missile Review, released the same year.
“Regional actors such as North Korea and Iran continue to develop long-range missiles that will be threatening to the United States,” the review stated. “There is some uncertainty about when and how this type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threat to the U.S. homeland will mature.”
Iran has launched satellites into space on rockets’ backs — and those same kinds of rockets could be used to send warheads hurtling thousands of miles away, with the right modifications. So the potential for a serious threat is most certainly there. At the moment, however, Iran’s longest-range missile only flies about 800 miles. “The bottom line,” veteran CIA Mideast analyst Paul Pillar told Danger Room in February, “is that the intelligence community does not believe [the Iranians] are anywhere close to having an ICBM.”
What’s more, the Pentagon says they’ve already got the East Coast covered, thanks to the anti-missiles already stationed out west and up north. “The ground-based interceptors fielded in Alaska and California will provide protection from any future Iranian ICBM capability,” the 2010 Ballistic Missile Review says. A communications terminal, planned for Ft. Drum, New York, will only increase the interceptors’ accuracy, Missile Defense Agency chief Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly told Congress last week (.pdf).
And if those anti-missiles aren’t enough, there’s a third array slowly being phased in across eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. The interceptors — a combination of sea- and land-based defenders — are primarily meant to counter Iran’s medium-range missiles, since those are the weapons most likely to be in Tehran’s arsenal. But in its final stage, slated for 2020 or so, the anti-missile battery is designed to stop ICBMs, too.