Pentagon plans hard look at missile defense programs

By Andrea Shalal WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Defense Department has launched a major review of missile defense programs and capabilities, after military commanders called the current strategy "unsustainable" given tough budget pressures and rising threats around the world. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described the review in a Feb. 4 memo to top officers in the U.S. Army and Navy, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters. This year's review would also cover regional ballistic missile defense issues, the global reach of the U.S. Patriot missile defense system, and U.S. power projection capabilities. Hagel said a strategic review by top Pentagon officials last fall had concluded the current ballistic missile defense policy was sound, but recommended an update of a 2011 joint study to help shape the Pentagon's fiscal 2017 budget process. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert and Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, in a memo dated Nov. 5, had called for a reassessment by the Pentagon. The Pentagon's current focus on forward-deployment of assets was too costly, they wrote, urging a shift to a more holistic approach that included use of non-kinetic "left of launch" technologies such as electromagnetic propogation and cyber. They said it was critical to develop a more cost-effective and sustainable long-term approach that addressed homeland missile defense and regional missile defense priorities. In his response, Hagel said the department would continue to look for "innovative" ways to address challenges, and urged Greenert and Odierno to play an active role in the various reviews. Kingston Reif, head of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, said the concerns raised by the Army and Navy underscored the myriad problems still facing the current system. Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said various Pentagon officials and others had worked for years on a "left of launch" strategy that lowered costs by targeting the electronic radar signatures of enemy command and control systems, or the targeting systems of incoming missiles. But he said relying on such capabilities to defend against potential missile attacks by North Korea or Iran - instead of the current ground-based interceptors - was problematic, since it would entail "preemptive strikes" that could have grave political and strategic consequences. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)