Letter Shows Fissures over Missile Defense Strategy

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WASHINGTON — Top U.S. Army and Navy leaders were fulfilling a “legal and professional” obligation last year when they warned then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that the services could not meet the continuing demands placed on them by the U.S. missile defense program, a retired senior naval officer said.

“I read that memo as … ‘Sir, I don’t think I can do what you want me to do, so something has to change: the mission or the resources,’” Archer Macy, a retired Navy admiral who served as director of the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization, said during an April 7 panel discussion on missile defense in Washington.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert
Adm. Jonathan Greenert. Credit: Courtesy of Adm. Greenert

In a Nov. 5 letter to Hagel, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, suggested an adjustment to the country’s ballistic missile defense strategy.

Ballistic missile threats “are increasingly capable, continue to outpace our active defense systems and exceed our Services’ capacity to meet Combatant Commanders’ demand,” the memo said. “Our present acquisition-based strategy is unsustainable.”

Given the Pentagon’s long-term budget outlook, a reassessment of the nation’s ballistic missile strategy assessment is needed, the officers wrote. A copy of the memo was obtained by SpaceNews.
In a response that came three months later, Hagel said a Pentagon working group had found late last year that the current policy was sound and that a strategic portfolio review will take place in fiscal year 2017.

The memos have been widely discussed among lawmakers and the within missile defense community in recent weeks.

“The message of this memo is pretty important and pretty daunting,” Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), ranking member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said during a March 19 hearing. “To have Greenert and Odierno write something like this is pretty astonishing because it’s harsher criticism than the committees ever levy.”

During the April 7 panel discussion, Elaine Bunn, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, disagreed with one of the original letter’s key assertions. “Today, on the homeland side, we are outpacing the threat,” she said.