U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.)
Co-Chairman, Congressional Missile Defense Caucus
Rep. Trent Franks, who describes himself as a conservative Republican in the mold of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, cites partisanship as a principal reason for what he sees as a lack of support among congressional Democrats for missile defense.
Part of the problem, Franks says, is the close association between missile defense and Reagan, the late Republican Party icon who launched the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983 with the stated goal of rendering nuclear missiles obsolete.
“Because it was Ronald Reagan’s brainchild, somehow [Democrats]
think that to embrace it might give him additional credibility,” says Franks,
a member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.
“That’s a bad way of looking at it in my mind – our first purpose is to protect our people, and in a post 9/11 world, missile defense is a critical priority.”
That his own sentiments also might
be construed as partisan is not lost on Franks, who before being elected to Congress founded and led the Arizona Family Research Institute, which is described on his official Web site as a non
profit group affiliated with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. But Franks is quick to note that the Congressional Missile Defense Caucus, which he founded
in late June to bolster support for the activity in the face of budget cuts pushed by the House’s Democratic majority, is bipartisan.
Although the caucus today is overwhelmingly Republican, one of the co-chairmen, Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia, is a Democrat, and Franks says he hopes to bring more Democrats on board in the future.
Franks spoke recently with Space News staff writer Jeremy Singer.
Is missile defense suffering under a Democrat-controlled Congress?
It’s obviously getting less priority today under Democratic control than under Republican control. However, I’m encouraged to see that our caucus has bipartisan membership, including Rep. Jim Marshall as a co-chair. I think that more Democrats may join as they see that our intention is not to make political points – even though I’ve made a few here in this interview – but to promote systems that can protect the United States and troops deployed overseas from the monster of ballistic missiles.
I may someday have to apologize to the American people for supporting systems that were expensive and did not have to be used, but I can do that with a clear conscience. But having to apologize when one or more of our cities is in flames from a nuclear attack after we failed to pursue a system that could protect us is an unthinkable proposition.
Are you worried about the future of the Airborne Laser (ABL) program?
Yes. The ABL was nearly killed in markup, but we were fortunate to get enough money restored to put it on life support, which is where it is right now. I accompanied a couple of members of the appropriations committee to inspect the aircraft recently, and after they saw it, they were so impressed that they made a clear commitment on their part to do what they can to keep the program going.
In the near term, the ABL offers the best opportunity to shoot down missiles in their boost phase. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that it is better to leave debris and other elements of a nuclear-equipped missile in the offender’s home territory, and it’s easier to hit something in its boost phase because it is moving slower and has not had the chance to deploy countermeasures or take other actions to avoid interceptors.
Over the long-term – maybe the next 20 to 30 years – the ABL could lead to other high-power lasers launched from the air or the ground that would work in concert with space-based relay mirrors to intercept ballistic missiles around the world. Lasers offer capabilities that are superior to other types of interceptor technology in many ways. They move at the speed of light, and once they have locked onto a target, they don’t miss in an overwhelming percentage of the time. Even if you miss, you can fire another very quickly.
Do you agree with those on Capitol Hill who believe that near-term programs, like the Ground Based Midcourse Defense
and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense
deserve more attention than more-futuristic
efforts like ABL?
There’s always a balance. I don’t know if anyone has the answer, but we should try not to push either type of program to the detriment of the other.
I look favorably at those near-term programs, but if we lack the foresight to develop something with the profound potential of ABL and all the possibilities that it could lead to, I think we have failed coming generations.
The Senate recently included an amendment to its version of the 2008 defense authorization act that makes it U.S. policy to deploy systems to defend itself and its allies against
Iranian missiles. The provision was not included in the House version of the bill. Will you fight to have it included in the final version of the bill?
The Iranian nuclear threat is, in my judgment, the most destabilizing factor in the world, next to a potential coup in Pakistan where jihadists could potentially obtain a nuclear arsenal.
What’s the likelihood of this language being adopted in the House-Senate
conference on the
defense authorization bill?
I think it has a chance. As more American people realize the threat posed by Iran’s missiles, there will be more pressure on the Democratic House to look at it favorably. The idea that we would not want to defend ourselves against [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s nuclear arsenal is ludicrous
Iran is not too far away from a capability that could strike the United States – or Israel.
Iran may be less than five years away from having a nuclear missile that could strike Israel, and you can bet that Israel cannot let that happen. If Iran gets much closer to that capability without the rest of the world stopping it, Israel may have to launch a pre-emptive strike that would be a recipe for widespread destabilization.
What is standing in the way of the Pentagon’s plans to deploy a tracking radar sensor in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland
The biggest obstacle isn’t Russia. It’s liberal Democrats in Congress. Poland and the Czech Republic are on board.
NATO doesn’t oppose it, and even if they did, we’ve never relied on NATO to sign off on things that are in our best interest, and this would be an insane time to start.
That said, missile defense in Europe should be a cooperative effort involving NATO and allies like Poland, the Czech Republic
European missile defense is critical for many reasons, not the least of which is for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to acting in the best interest of itself and its allies. Despite Russia’s posturing on the issue, it’s clear that the interceptors pose no threat to them – they could overwhelm the 10 interceptors planned for Poland instantly.
It’s my judgment that Russia opposes the European sites for geopolitical reasons – to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its allies in Europe and to maintain strategic domination in that area.
What about the fact that the Polish and Czech governments have yet to agree to having missile defense placed in their territory?
In my meeting with the Czechs, it was made clear that there is great support among many in the Czech Parliament. The government of the Czech Republic is also very favorable to the idea of working with the United States on missile defense cooperation, specifically as it pertains to the radar being placed in their country. They informed me that the biggest challenge lies in informing the Czech people.
Some people believe that the radar will give off harmful radiation, when in fact it will not. Once the Czech people understand that this radar will not harm them, but will in fact facilitate protecting them against Iranian missiles, and once their members of parliament realize that U.S. congressmen support cooperation with their country to protect against our shared enemy, we will move forward with this initiative.
What is your level of confidence in the GMD system?
GMD is a critical element of our rudimentary, but developing, system. To count it out at this point is a terrible mistake.
What is your response to critics who say that the GMD system has yet to undergo any realistic testing?
Perhaps it hasn’t been tested as much as we would ideally like to see. But when we have something with this type of capability, it would be immoral not to have it deployed given the circumstances in the world we live in today.
As time goes on, we’ll see a lot of good things from this deployment, and if it intercepts even one missile, the debate will be transformed immediately.