As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am particularly interested in what the war with Iraq taught us about how we may best defend our nation in the future. The following discusses two of the conclusions I and many others have drawn from the experience.
First, the importance and effectiveness of "stealth" technology, the ability to make weapon systems virtually undetectable, was clearly demonstrated during Operation Desert Storm by the impressive performance of the F-117A Stealth fighter.The F-117A was able to penetrate Baghdad's extensive air defenses with impunity and strike its targets with pinpoint accuracy using laser-guided munitions.
To some degree, stealth technology is being incorporated into virtually every new U.S. aircraft, helicopter, cruise missile and submarine. That investment is paying dividends. Stealth is here to stay, and, as the gulf war has demonstrated, it must be a cornerstone of our military's ability to defend this nation.
A second lesson impacting our ability to defend our nation drawn from the gulf war experience is the importance and urgency of developing an effective anti-ballistic missile defense system.
This was most clearly driven home by the successful interception by the Patriot of Iraqi Scud missiles aimed at population centers in Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, an effective defense against intercontinental ballistic missile attacks will have to make tremendous strides over the Patriot in terms of speed and tracking ability.
The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) is our best hope for such an effort and should receive renewed emphasis. Opponents of any system designed to defend against incoming missiles often take two courses.
Their first argument is that SDI isn't worth having unless it is perfect, and that perfection is unattainable. Therefore, even if only 10 percent of the missiles from a massive launch get through the defensive shield of SDI, they would do devastating damage. Thus, they argue, SDI would be a waste of money.
However, a defense need not be perfect to significantly contribute to deterrence and thus to our security. For example, even if SDI was only 50 percent effective against a massive launch of Soviet missiles, it would virtually assure the failure of that strike to stop our capability to fire back in a massive manner.
With the euphoria surrounding the end of the Cold War, many forget that the Soviet Union is still producing increasingly accurate and powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at U.S. soil.
While I agree the scenario for such an all-out nuclear conflict has decreased tremendously in recent years, the current "truce" is fragile and subject to the uncertain political situation in the Soviet Union.
Further, a massive missile launch from the Soviet Union does not pose the only potential ballistic missile threat to our country. Possibly a greater threat comes from an accidental missile launch or a deliberate launch from a hostile third country.
According to the CIA, some 30 nations will have ballistic missile technology at the turn of the century, most of them unstable Third World nations. Libya's Moammar Gadhafi said that if he had had a missile capable of reaching the United States at the time of the U.S. air raid on Tripoli in 1986, he would have fired it at New York City.
Without a means to shoot it down, this nation would be virtually defenseless against a single unexpected ballistic missile launched in hate or in error.
The second argument by those opposed to SDI is that any attempt at producing defensive capabilities will introduce a new, destabilizing wrinkle in the deterrence fabric. The fact is, both the Soviet Union (to a greater extent) and the United States (to a lesser extent) already employ defensive measures.
The United States has, for many years, sought to defend its strategic forces through passive means. We harden our missile silos and build them with shock absorption devices so that they can survive a nearby nuclear attack. We place missiles in submarines and hide them under the seas. And we place our aircraft in a position to fly on warning to escape attack.
These defenses are intended to reinforce deterrence, for surviving missiles would be available for retaliation should we be subject to a first strike.
I am not arguing that this nation should carelessly throw money at high-tech defense systems. In fact, I am proposing quite the opposite. We must carefully assess the cost effectiveness and contribution of any defense to the overall security or our country.
We would do well to remember the haunting sounds of the nightly air raid sirens in Tel Aviv and Riyadh and realize that it could just as easily be New York or Salt Lake City if we do not act.