According to a press report this week, the Pentagon may request $500 million less than it did last year for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). A reduction in MDA funding would be difficult to reconcile with the administration’s own 2019 Missile Defense Review (MDR), which underscored the growing missile threat.
Outpacing such threats will be difficult if MDA lacks sufficient funding. Yet, sources say the Defense Department plans to request $9.4 billion for MDA, down from the $9.9 billion requested for FY 2019. This would represent more than a 10 percent cut from MDA’s FY 2019 enacted level of $10.5 billion.
The 2019 MDR noted that potential adversaries – including China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea – are “fielding an increasingly diverse, expansive, and modern range of regional offensive missile systems that can threaten U.S. forces abroad, allies, and partners.” It reported, “Offensive missiles play an increasingly prominent role in China’s military modernization, its coercive threats, and efforts to counter U.S. military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.” The MDR also noted, “Moscow is fielding an increasingly advanced and diverse range of nuclear-capable regional offensive missile systems, including missiles with unprecedented characteristics of altitude, speed, propulsion type, and range.”
Yet the growing threat goes beyond China and Russia. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats testified in January that “Iran’s ballistic missile programs, which include the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the region, continue to pose a threat to countries across the Middle East.” Worse yet, Tehran is improving the capabilities of its missiles. The MDR noted, “One of Iran’s primary tools of coercion and force projection is its missile arsenal, which is characterized by increasing numbers, as well as increases in accuracy, range, and lethality.” Indeed, Iran continues to develop technologies it could eventually use to field an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to strike the U.S. homeland.
While North Korea has not tested its ballistic missiles in recent months, the MDR assessed that Pyongyang has “neared the time” when it could possess the capability to credibly threaten the U.S. homeland with an ICBM. Despite negotiations, North Korea retains its ballistic missile capabilities. Adding to these concerns, the New York Times reported that “North Korea has started rebuilding the facilities it uses to launch satellites into orbit and test engines and other technologies for its intercontinental ballistic missile program.”
In his January remarks on the MDR, President Trump said, “It is not enough to merely keep pace with our adversaries; we must outpace them at every single turn. We must pursue the advanced technology and research to guarantee that the United States is always several steps ahead of those who would do us harm.”
It is true some important missile defense capabilities are funded outside of MDA’s budget and an effective deterrent relies on more than just U.S. missile defenses. Strengthened U.S. long-range strike capabilities and a new hypersonic weapons capability, for instance, could help deter a missile attack. However, suggesting that we must reduce MDA’s funding to afford these programs is a false choice. Missile defense and hypersonic weapons are both among the Department of Defense’s top priorities, and there is sufficient room in the defense budget to provide increased funding for each.
Failure to invest sufficient resources in missile defense would leave the U.S. and our allies more vulnerable, tempting adversaries to undertake aggression they might not otherwise consider. While every defense budget necessarily involves difficult trade-offs, shortchanging missile defense would be a shortsighted mistake.
The missile threat to Americans and our allies is growing, and the budget for MDA should reflect that fact.
Bradley Bowman is senior director for the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Andrew Gabel is a research analyst. Follow Bradley and Andrew on Twitter at @Brad_L_Bowman and @Andrew_B_Gabel. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.