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Jan. 24, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

F-35 to get missile defense mission
The Pentagon’s new missile defense strategy unveiled last week reveals plans to deploy an advanced anti-missile interceptor on the new F-35 jet that can be used to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The new SM-3 Block IIA interceptor, originally intended for use from Aegis missile defense ships, will be used as a backup for the current 44 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) now deployed in Alaska and California. Those interceptors, along with sensors around the world and in space, can counter North Korean long-range missiles and expected Iranian ICBMs, as well some Chinese or Russian missiles in the event of a major war.

The new interceptor “has the potential to provide an important ‘underlay’ to existing GBIs for added protection against ICBM threats to the homeland,” the Missile Defense Review states.

The advanced SM-3 deployed on F-35s would reduce the burden on the GBIs that could be overwhelmed by a large salvo of long-range missiles or a smaller number of missiles with multiple warheads.

As part of a congressional mandate, the Pentagon is studying the use of the new SM-3 against ICBMs, and a first test is planned next year. The F-35 missile defense system includes the advanced sensors and communications links that can fuse data on missile launches and their tracks.

To rapidly expand U.S. long-range anti-ICBM defenses, the advanced SM-3 also could be deployed on land. Additionally, the number of Aegis missile defense ships will be expanded from the current 38 warships to 60 ships by the end of 2022.

F-35 missile defenses also have an advantage over the ground-based systems because they can strike long-range missiles shortly after launch — when they are more vulnerable — and have not yet deployed countermeasures such as chaff or decoys designed to fool defenses.

“DoD’s newest tactical aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II, has a capable sensor system that can detect the infrared signature of a boosting missile and its computers can identify the threatening missile’s location,” the report said.

“The F-35 also can transmit tracking data to the joint force for network-centric warfighting. It can track and destroy adversary cruise missiles today, and, in the future, can be equipped with a new or modified interceptor capable of shooting down adversary ballistic missiles in their boost phase and could be surged rapidly to hot spots to strengthen U.S. active defense capabilities and attack operations.”

The Air Force and Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency have been given six months to report on how to integrate the F-35 into both regional and homeland missile defenses.

Not mentioned in the missile defense review is the potential of using the high-performance SM-3 as an anti-satellite missile in the future. That would take the Air Force all the way back to 1985, when it first tested — and later abandoned — the ASM-135 anti-satellite missile that was fired from an F-15 jet during a supersonic climb.

The MDA and the Northern Command have six months to draw up a plan to speed up efforts to advance missile defense tracking and discrimination sensors that will be used to deal with emerging advanced missile threats. Those threats include new hypersonic cruise missiles nearing deployment by both China and Russia.

Speaking of ICBMs, China’s Rocket Forces carried out a mock ICBM strike exercise recently, state-run China Central Television reported on Monday, providing few details of the strategic exercise.

A follow-up report in the Global Times, like CCTV a Communist Party-controlled organ, quoted a Hong Kong-based Chinese military expert, Song Zhongping, who said Chinese strategic nuclear missiles are stored in deep underground bunkers.

The bunker system is a 3,000-mile long network of tunnels and bunkers used for both storage and missile manufacturing that has been dubbed the “Great Underground Wall.”

China is building up its long-range missile forces with an array of weapons, including multiple-warhead upgrades to existing ICBMs and the deployment of a new missile known as the DF-41 that will carry multiple warheads. China also is advancing its submarine-launched ICBM capabilities by recently flight-testing a new SL-3 missile.

On Wednesday, Chinese state media also released video footage of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile known as the DF-26. Chinese commentators have called that missile the “Guam-killer” because it can range the strategic U.S. hub in the South Pacific.

Mr. Song said Chinese missile forces have been upgraded significantly in recent years and now boast longer ranges, greater accuracy and more lethality. He described the trio of ICBMs in the arsenal as the DF-5, DF-31 and DF-41 — all with singular or multiple warheads, ranges greater than 6,200 miles and an accuracy rate of within a few dozen meters.

Mr. Song also said the new DF-41 could be showcased in public for the first time in October during a military parade in Beijing.

New Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch is closely watching events in the Middle East in light of President Trump’s announced pullout of U.S. forces from Syria. The Idaho Republican said in an interview that, contrary to critics of the president’s withdrawal decision, the U.S. remains committed to supporting Kurdish militias battling Islamic State terrorists in Syria.

At the same time, the United States also is committed to supporting Turkey, a problematic NATO ally in the region.

“They’re both allies and, having said that, we are America and we’re not going to look the other way when allies do something that they shouldn’t do, whether it’s an element of the Kurds doing a terrorist attack in Turkey or whether it’s the Turks attacking them. We’re not going to stand by and watch that,” the senator said.

Mr. Risch said the Turks need to abandon the notion that all ethnic Kurds in the Middle East are terrorists, saying only a small percentage fit that category.

He noted, “When you talk to the Turks, they paint them all in a broad brush and they will argue with me, ‘No, they’re all terrorists.’ Well, that’s not true. Having said that, I have no issue with the Turks protecting themselves against terrorists. But they can’t declare every Kurd an enemy.”

Mr. Risch, a key Senate supporter of the president, acknowledged that Mr. Trump set off a controversy by tweeting in December that a “slow and highly coordinated” troop pullout in Syria would begin shortly.

Days later, the president modified that stance, saying the pullout would be accompanied by stepped-up attacks on the Islamic State “from many directions.”

Mr. Trump also warned the Turks not to attack the Kurds. “Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” he tweeted.

“I think the president understands fully the two items he was criticized on for not mentioning that he can’t leave the Kurds behind unattended. And he’s spoken to that,” Mr. Risch said.

Also, battling terrorism will continue. “I think the press tried to paint it like we’re walking away from that commitment,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The president understands that you need platforms to be able to address that from, and he feels that we have sufficient platforms to do that. And I agree with him. We’re not walking away from our commitment in the Middle East and Africa.”

Asked if the Turks are set to attack Kurdish militias, Mr. Risch said: “I think the president underscored that that would not be a good idea just recently. And I share his thoughts in that regard.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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