Policy: National Security

Sunday Reflection: Investing in proven defense systems

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Opinion,Columnists,The Pentagon,National Security,Defense

America and its NATO allies are giving a pretty big present to Turkey this holiday season — battle-proven defense infrastructure designed to protect it from a Syrian missile attack.

The package is predominantly Patriot air defense missiles from Germany, the Netherlands and — announced earlier this month — the United States. With the Patriot and 400 U.S. troops to operate the system, Turkey will be better protected both from the ballistic missiles that are already raining down on it, but more importantly, from the looming threat of chemical weapons.

As the Middle East has unraveled in recent months, one minor consolation has been the thought that most weapons in the hands of terrorists, rogue regimes and hostile nations cannot reach the American border. Yet as the situations in Syria and Iran demonstrate, key allies and our deployed Armed Forces are indeed in harm’s way and need protection. The situation becomes even more dire with the backdrop of increasing demands on the Department of Defense budget and the prospect of across-the-board sequestration cuts that could go into effect in the new year. 

As retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin recently stated: “Incredibly, the fiscal cliff defense cuts would even reduce funding for U.S. missile defense — our only shield against the ballistic missiles now spreading in Iran and worldwide. ... Falling over the fiscal cliff would embolden our enemies, expose us to attacks and weaken our ability to respond.”

That is why it is so important for the Pentagon to fully fund the ongoing modernization of military projects that have a proven track record of success, rather than developing expensive, risky new equipment that may take years to come online. In this financial climate, we must be prudent in how our defense dollars are spent, while ensuring our vital assets are protected and we are ready to help our friends in need.

Modernization of programs like the Patriot meets both of those goals.

The Patriot missile defense system has kept up with the times and is increasingly relied upon by our allies to shield them from regional threats. Just this month, in addition to Turkey, the Japanese Navy brought two Patriot batteries online to deter and disrupt missile attacks from North Korea, which tested its long-range Unha-3 rocket just this week. Numerous Middle Eastern allies rely on Patriot as well, including Egypt, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Patriot is worth the continued investment by the United States and partner nations because Patriot has a proven record of success. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, it went a perfect 9-for-9 in intercepting Iraqi missiles. Its interoperability allows for the United States and its allies to partner defense systems to better secure broad regions like the Middle East.

And because the system is used around the world, each of the 12 participant countries contributes a portion to its development, which makes it more cost-effective for the American taxpayer as well.

Perhaps just as important, Patriot missiles help our allies send an incredibly important deterrent message to the Syrians and North Koreas of the world. Each time the United States, NATO or other allies send the Patriot missile system to a country in danger, we are backing up our diplomatic messages and giving our allies an incredibly important bargaining chip.

We cannot allow missile defense to be pushed to the back burner as our government looks for ways to solve its fiscal crisis. But at the same time, we clearly cannot afford to start from scratch with a new system that will take too long and cost too much.

Modernizing the Patriot is the best way to ensure the United States and our allies, including Turkey, have continued access to a comprehensive missile defense system that will defend against threats now and for years to come.

Col. John Venable (USAF, Ret.) led a group comprised of 1,100 personnel and $5 billion in aircraft assets flying combat missions for a year in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. He also served as commander and demonstration leader of the USAF Thunderbirds.

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