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Shooting for the Stars: Ballistic Missiles by the Numbers

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The Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces meets this afternoon to review the Defense Department’s budget request for ballistic missile defense programs for fiscal year 2009. These programs have grown increasingly obsolete since the end of the Cold War. Why? Because there is no imminent, new ballistic missile threat.

The threat from a North Korean or Iranian long-range missile is still largely hypothetical. These missiles still garner a large share of the attention from policy makers, even though they constitute only one—and the most difficult—way to deliver nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

A recent GAO report showed that Missile Defense programs are chronically over budget and behind schedule. Furthermore, two dozen countries currently have ballistic missiles but almost all these nations are friends of the United States, and almost all have only short-range missiles that threaten only their neighbors. China is the only potentially hostile nation that has a long-range missile that can reach central Europe or the United States from its territory.

The numbers show that the threat posed to the United States and Europe by ballistic missiles no longer warrants the bloated cost of the missile defense budget.

2,380: Number of long-range missiles in the Soviet Union’s combined ICBM and SLBM arsenals in 1987, with 9,847 warheads.
669: Number of long-range missiles, carrying 2,467 warheads, in Russia’s arsenal as of February 2007.

1,640: Number of long-range missiles deployed by the United States in 1987, with 8,331 warheads.
836: Number of long-range missiles, carrying 3,066 warheads, in the U.S. arsenal as of February 2007.

71 percent: Decrease in the number of ICBMs that threaten U.S. territory from 1987 to 2007. In 1987, the Soviet Union and China fielded a combined 2,400 long-range missiles. Twenty years later, the combined number for Russia and China was 689.

$91.1 million: Budget overrun in fiscal year 2007 for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, a mobile system built by Lockheed Martin Corp. that can shoot down short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

$325.8 million: Total projected cost overrun for the THAAD program, according to GAO.

$10.4 billion: FY 2008 total budget allocation for ballistic missile defense.
$12.3 billion: FY 2009 total budget request for ballistic missile defense.

Congress took steps last year to trim the fat from the ballistic missile budget. Lawmakers would be wise to do so again while adding oversight to the programs.

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