SEN. KING: One of the issues that I’ve been concerned about as I’ve been in these hearings is a growing submarine capability. It seems like everybody wants to have a submarine and a lot of countries do. I take it that this shield that we are constructing and have constructed would be effective against a submarine-launched missile which could be much closer.
How do we deal with a submarine-launched missile that would be a couple hundred miles off shore? Is that a different — is that a different issue and, again, it gets back to this East Coast issue. I can’t see how we could get a shield missile — an interceptor from Colorado or Alaska to protect the East Coast against a missile that’s launched from within 500 miles of the coast. Talk to me about submarines.
GEN. FORMICA: Actually, Senator, my assessment is that the ballistic missile defense system that’s in place and designed against an ICBM — a limited ICBM threat from North Korea and Iran.
SEN. KING: Not submarine-launched missiles
GEN. FORMICA: Not submarine-launched.
SEN. KING: What is our strategy with regard to submarine- launched missiles?
GEN. FORMICA: I’d have to take that for the record. We don’t have it. We don’t have a strategy. NORTHCOM commander has obviously identified that kind of threat as a concern and that is an area that he is concerned about.
SEN. KING: Madame Secretary?
MS. CREEDON: I just want to jump in for a minute. I think we probably should get you — this is a very complicated topic, to say the least.
SEN. KING: I’m figuring that out.
MS. CREEDON: And it isn’t just ICBMs. It’s also cruise missiles. But why don’t we make the offer to get you a briefing on some of the issues and complexities associated with a submarine threat off the coast, either coast of the U.S.?
SEN. KING: Absolutely. Well, I just — you know, I’m just trying to think like the enemy here. If you guys can stop intercontinentals, then I’m going to bring them in in another way. Of course we can have a whole different discussion about one that comes in in a suitcase into New York Harbor. But OK, well, I think that’s it, Mr. Chairman. Thank you. [emphasis mine.]
The above exchange amongst Sen. Angus King (I-ME), Madelyn R. Creedon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, and Lieutenant General Richard P. Formica, USA, Commander, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command took place at the May 9 hearing of the Senate Strategic Forces Subcommittee on the FY 2014 missile defense budget request. Sen. King asked a number of other good questions at the hearing as well.
As our Senior Science Fellow Phil Coyle noted in a recent piece marking the 30th anniversary of President Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech, “Despite continuing Presidential support, U.S. ballistic missile defenses are hobbled by a never-changing set of intractable obstacles that have confounded the DoD for decades.” The responses to Sen. King’s questions powerfully illustrate a few important examples of these obstacles.