What to Do With US Missile Defense? A Problem of Agency Funding

© Flickr / Gonzalo AlonsoA Standard Missile (SM-3) is launched from the Aegis combat system equipped Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) during a Missile Defense Agency ballistic missile flight test
A Standard Missile (SM-3) is launched from the Aegis combat system equipped Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) during a Missile Defense Agency ballistic missile flight test - Sputnik International
The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) of the United States needs money, as missile defense R&D is consistently being deprioritized by other requirements. Tom Karako, from the Center for Strategic & International Studies, analyzes the situation.

This photograph provided by the Israeli Ministry of Defense on Monday Dec. 21, 2015 shows a launch of David's Sling missile defense system. David's Sling is intended to counter medium-range missiles possessed by enemies throughout the region, most notably the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah. - Sputnik International
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MDA both develops and commands American national missile defense. During the Reagan era, the work of the MDA was largely theoretical and developmental, as the nascent missile technologies, with the exception of the Patriot program, were still in the design stages. Nowadays, however, the role of the MDA has shifted to operations. The much-touted US missile defense programs, including the GMD, the land-based THAAD, and the ship-fired SM-3, are not serviced by the US military branches that deploy them.

According to Tom Karako, missile defense director at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), "MDA is a victim of its own success." The group now operates the systems it developed, growing and expanding its responsibilities, as its budget shrinks.

According to a study by CSIS, the MDA could be transformed into a separate military body, like Special Operations Command, which would indicate significant budget increases and a wider mandate. Karako suggests also that the logistics and operations of US missile defense could be transferred to the military branch that deploys the particular system, leaving MDA as it was before the 80s, a strictly R&D body.

The first option has an evident downside, as more money must be identified. But the second solution presents a less obvious stumbling block, as entire systems would need to be transferred, alongside the funds. This would result in the MDA not only losing its operational responsibilities, but it is suggested that it would also lose the money it needs to function.

Talking about the previous transition of the Patriot system, Karako notes that the funds did not come alongside the new responsibilities.

"Patriot lost both funding and leadership focus when it was given back to the Army, which has plenty of other priorities in its budget — from combat boots to attack helicopters — that are dearer to its institutional heart than missile defense," he argues.

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Karako points out in another article that MDA suffers from underfunding because the US is also paying for Israel's missile defense. The funds to bankroll Israel's deployment of US missiles is drawn directly from MDA's ever-shrinking budget.

"In recent years, increased funding for Israeli missile defense has begun to directly compete with funding for US missile defense efforts," Karako writes. "And when appropriators divert more money to the Israeli budget line, they almost invariably fail to fully compensate MDA. US programs are then cut to pay the bill."

Describing the process of paying the expenses of the Israeli military, Karako explains that the US Congress proposes figures that far exceed those requested by the President.

Karako proposes to "recognize Israel missile defense assistance for what it is, a species of foreign assistance," and, subsequently, transfer the funding to the US State Department foreign military financing budget. If Israeli military funding must remain within the responsibility of the Department of Defense, he suggests, the two programs must be carefully segregated.

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