Seaborn KEI vs GBMD

bmdo-kei-showroom-bg.jpgDaniel Goure, writing at Spacewar.com makes a compelling argument for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI,) arguing that it’s a much more flexible defense system than the Ground-Based Missile Defense (GBMD) system proposed for Chechoslovakia and Poland by President Bush.

Here’s the meat of the argument, full article at Spacewars:

To date, the Missile Defense Agency has in development only one system designed from the start free of all ABM Treaty constraints. That is the Kinetic Energy Interceptor. The KEI is an extremely powerful missile that is intended to provide an option for boost phase defense, intercepting long-range ballistic missiles in the earliest part of their flights.

With U.S. departure from the ABM Treaty, KEI was able, uniquely, to capitalize on and incorporate previously prohibited design features: mobility, deployability and sensor cueing from space.

Moreover, KEI could be both land and sea-based. In the latter configuration it could operate up close to many potential threats even in peacetime, ready to respond in seconds to a hostile launch. All the other mobile or sea-based missile defense systems are short-range and therefore unsuitable for intercepting long-range offensive missiles.

Some have suggested that KEI could serve as the follow-on booster for the ground-based missile defense of the homeland. Because of its throw-weight, KEI could also carry advanced warheads including large sensor packages or multiple kill vehicles to deal with future offensive threats such as advanced penetration aids or fractionated warheads.

While Dan’s arguments against GBMD are salient, I am going to disagree with him by agreeing. We really don’t need one or the other, we really need both systems. To be effective we must have layers of protection, and visible deterrence. Parking ground based missile defense systems permanently in Kim Jong Il’s and Ahmadinejad’s faces makes sense to me. Having a secure system at sea that can intercept missiles quickly also makes a great deal of sense.

The downside of GBMD is that they are permanent, fixed, installations — in countries which could become overun, or which could someday be at war against us. (Who knows what politics in Japan, Chechoslovakia or Poland will be in fifteen years?) The downside to KEI is that systems must be in-theater, and ready for the launch.

I’m in favor of fuller deployment of sea-born KEI, but we also need the static, always-on- the-watch and always-ready GBMD systems in some places.

[Editor’s note- from the know your sources dept: Daniel Goure was deputy director of the CSIS International Security Program, and a member of the Lexington Institute. He appears to be a cold warrior of the naval variety adapting well to today’s threats, and was a member of the 2001 defense transition team. Media Matters doesn’t like him, so he’s probably one of the good guys. He’s written a book on missile defense, available from CSIS]