Director, U.S. Missile Defense Agency
Missile Defense Agency (MDA) director Trey Obering often finds himself under fire from critics in Congress or Washington
think tanks who assail the cost of the U.S. missile shield
he oversees and also challenge the notion
it will provide
an effective defense against enemy ballistic missiles.
Dealing with such
criticism is not that difficult, Obering says. “When you’re doing something that is critical to national security … it’s easy to come to work every day.”
and his staff have been working closely with members of Congress and their aides in recent months to “make sure they have the information that they need” for marking up the 2008 defense budget. While MDA has not received all of the $8.9 billion that it requested for 2008, Obering said
he is pleased
the agency stands to receive most of what the president requested for the missile defense program.
item at the top of
agenda has been laying plans to
place U.S. warning radar
and missile interceptors at sites in Europe
and possibly sharing a Russian early warning radar system. Obering expressed hope that U.S. government officials can reach agreements with their counterparts in Poland and the Czech Republic on hosting
and tracking radar respectively by the end of the year.
, who enjoys playing folk music like the songs of John Denver on the guitar in his spare time, recently talked about missile defense issues with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer
Are there any major sticking points in your effort to build missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic?
I don’t see any major showstoppers. The negotiations between the U.S. and Europeans have been proceeding very well. The U.S. side of the negotiations is led by John Rood, assistant secretary of the Bureau of International Security and Nonprofileration at the State Department, but we have MDA representatives on the team. Both parties are negotiating in good faith, and as long as that continues, I expect that we will reach agreements.
How interested are you in Russia’s proposal to share its missile warning radar located in Azerbaijan with the United States?
We’re taking Russia’s offer very seriously, and want to make sure that we understand it. We don’t think it’s a viable alternative to building the sites in Poland or the Czech Republic, but think that the radar sensor in Gabala could be an interesting option to look at for use in concert with those European sites. It could work very nicely with our proposals and NATO capabilities to form an effective missile shield for Russia
, Europe and the United States.
What does that radar in Azerbaijan have to offer?
You can never have enough sensors. It could give additional warning capabilities, as well as some tracking capability, but not the precise tracking capability of the proposed radar for the Czech Republic.
What’s the likelihood of the Pentagon using the radar in Gabala?
I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. We need to keep working through the discussions with them.
Has Russia put any preconditions on U.S. use of the radar?
They have stated strongly that they do not want us to pursue our proposals in Eastern Europe, and have mentioned the idea of us dropping our space-based interceptor program, but I don’t know if those are preconditions specifically tied to our use of the radar in Gabala.
Historically we have cooperated with the Russians on space programs. We haven’t spoken with them about cooperation on the space interceptor effort, but cooperation in space in general is on the table.
What’s the outlook for your space interceptor work now that the House and Senate appropriators have both denied your request for $10 million in 2008 for the program?
It’s pretty bleak – you can’t get any lower than zero.
However, I don’t think it’s smart to limit your options when it comes to the future. When Congress eliminated that money, it was wrapped up in the sentiment of funding near-term capabilities rather than future capabilities. About $7.1 billion, or 80 percent of our 2008 budget request, was for near-term capabilities.
We think it’s important to maintain a balanced approach. If we had followed the philosophy of only funding near-term capabilities in the 1990s, we wouldn’t have had the long-range defense system that we turned on last summer when North Korea conducted its missile testing. That was considered a very futuristic program in the 1990s, compared to efforts like Patriot.
After having all the money that you requested for the space-based interceptor work in 2008 denied, do you plan to request money for the space-based interceptors in the 2009 budget request?
Where we stand today, I think it would be prudent to continue to try. It depends on what happens in the next year. There could be developments in the missile threat that change some of the minds on Capitol Hill.
When might you deploy operational space-based interceptors?
We have no plans at this time to deploy operational space-based missile interceptors. That’s infinitely far away. It would take about six years from program initiation to have a viable space-based test bed. We’d start with testing components, and depending on how it went, we could demonstrate an intercept in a controlled, safe environment.
By the way, we intercept in space today. That’s something that’s lost on a lot of people. The Ground Based Midcourse Defense System, Aegis, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense – almost all intercepts are conducted in space, even if the interceptors aren’t based there.
Do you anticipate cruise missile defense becoming a significant part of your work?
here would be some merit in applying the same approaches and processes and some of the same architectural concepts to cruise missile defense that we have used for ballistic missile defense.
I would challenge anyone to match what we have done with the Ground Based Midcourse Defense system between the summer of 2004 and summer of 2007. What we did during that period is unprecedented and remarkable, and it involves sea-based, land-based
and space-based elements. We’re continuing to build upon it with the integration of new sensors.
It’s a remarkable testament to the approach that we’ve taken and the flexibility that we have.
You could take
the same formulas and templates and apply them to cruise missile defense as well.
One of the big distinctions
between what we have done with ballistic missile defense and what could be done with cruise missile defense is that in the ballistic missile defense arena, we own and fund most of those programs. That may not be necessary with cruise missile defense. I
n that arena, we could take existing and planned assets and apply the approaches that we have used for ballistic missile defense.
Do you have any concerns about the plans to move MDA personnel from the Washington area to Huntsville, Ala., to comply with the recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission?
We’re moving more than 2,200 MDA jobs from the Washington area to Huntsville, and about 200 from Washington to other places like Colorado Springs. We’re trying to make sure that we don’t disrupt successful programs in the course of doing those moves. When people aren’t moving, we need to ensure that we can hire the right talent.