— U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a clear signal to the missile defense community that starting in 2010 budgetary pressures will force the Pentagon to shift priority away from the long-range strategic missile threat toward regional ballistic missile threats.

These same pressures dictate that future missile defense systems be capable of adapting to changing threats on the timescale of days and weeks, not months and years, Cartwright said in a March 23 speech at the 2009 Missile Defense Conference here.

“As I look toward the mission set … when we started, it was to defend the homeland, defend our deployed forces, and defend our allies and friends,” Cartwright said. “The emphasis is going to start to shift to toward deployed forces, allies and friends. It’s a question of balance.

“The work being done this year and in coming years for the terminal capability and area defenses that will have the mobility and the capability to be out there to address those threats are where we’re going to start to put the money because it is the most likely.”

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since 2004 has had a limited defense against long-range ballistic missiles with its Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, developed by Chicago-based Boeing Co. for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The MDA is weighing how it will proceed with the future GMD development, but Cartwright’s remarks seem to call that work into question. Also potentially at risk in the 2010 budget request, which the Pentagon is still working through, may be plans to develop a GMD-based European missile shield, Northrop Grumman’s Kinetic Energy Interceptor program and Boeing’s Airborne Laser program, each of which is designed to counter long-range strategic threats, industry sources said.

Up until now, the MDA has focused heavily on the interceptors, and the future of missile defense will be focused not so much there as on new sensors and command and control systems, Cartwright said. The era when the
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can afford to develop systems that do one thing exquisitely well is coming to an end. Troops in the field need systems that can evolve quickly to keep pace with technology, and the
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has not designed its current architecture in that way, he said.

“Ballistic missiles are about as passe as e-mail,” Cartwright said. “Nobody does it anymore. It was neat a couple of years ago, but they’re going to maneuver, they’re going to fly out of the atmosphere, into the atmosphere. No enemy out there would be so stupid as to come at us with a traditional ballistic missile trajectory. We’ve got to get a grip on how we solve these problems and stay ahead of the adversary.

“The reality is flexibility for the unknown lies in the sensors and the command-and-control. My dollar’s going toward sensors and command and control. You can solve more problems having nothing to do with missile defense for the range of threats this nation will face in the next 20 years with that command-and-control and sensor net. Would you buy, in tough economic times, something that does one thing well or something that does 100 things well and you haven’t even thought of 50 of them yet? The reality is, putting those sensors together will require fundamental change in the department and that’s where MDA has to lead us.”

Similarly, Cartwright called for shorter development times and more flexibility in future satellite systems when he spoke March 25 at the Satellite 2009 conference here. Space is no longer a sanctuary, and we are living in an era of persistent conflict, Cartwright said.

“Many would put us in a situation where everything has to be perfect and last forever and be invulnerable,” he said. “Generally that takes us down an unaffordable path. … The dollar that buys me competitive edge in multiple forums and multiple domains is the one that will get invested. We can’t afford niche any more. The reality of what it takes on the industrial side to build and integrate disadvantages the customer when I have to use something that took 10 years to get to market and will last for five years and the [improvised explosive device] fight changes every 30 days. Proprietary is bad. If I can’t adjust it, I can’t afford to buy it.”

It will be industry, not the government, that will win wars and save lives by developing the technologies to engineer humans out of processes better suited to machines, Cartwright said.

“We need your creativity,” he said “We also need to treat you in a way that you can compete. It is essential, and this is not an aberration that will be gone next year. We’ve got to figure out how we advantage this nation in business and in national security. We are operating constantly at network speeds and need to figure out where do I really need the human mind and where is it in the way? In more and more nodes, the human brain is just too slow.”