Biden’s FY25 budget cuts missile defense when we need it more than ever

Biden’s FY25 budget cuts missile defense when we need it more than ever

Despite the incredible performance of missile defenses in Ukraine, Israel and the Red Sea over the past 12 months, the Biden administration’s fiscal 2025 defense budget cuts missile defenses.

This is a mistake. Given the rising threat from missiles and drones — coupled with the effectiveness of missile defenses — the United States should be expanding its missile defense capabilities, not cutting them.

Indeed, autocrats increasingly are relying on a combination of missiles and drones to attack their enemies. From Russia’s unrelenting air campaign against Ukraine, to the strikes on Israel from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, to the Houthi missile strikes on civilian shipping, missiles are becoming an increasingly central component to fighting forces around the world.

In all of the above instances, however, integrated air and missile defenses have proved capable of intercepting a high percentage of missile salvos, saving countless lives in the process and denying the autocrats’ battlefield success.

Should the United States need to defend Taiwan or another ally from a Chinese attack, missile defenses will almost certainly be of paramount importance, given that China has one of the largest missile arsenals on the planet.

Why, then, did the Department of Defense propose cutting the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s budget by over $400 million in FY25, when it was supposed to increase its budget by $560 million according to the FY24 defense budget? Why is the Biden administration seeking to cut missile defenses by $2.6 billion over the next five years, as Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., recently pointed out?

When asked about these reductions in congressional testimony, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space and missile defense, John Hill, noted that the Defense Department “must pay bills,” to include payroll increases, health care and child care. In other words, the Biden administration is cutting combat-proven missile defenses to pay for noncombat operations.

Given the deteriorating security environment, it would seem that cutting missile defenses is the exact wrong thing to do at this point.

One could argue (correctly) that budget caps are in place, which forces the department to make hard choices. This is certainly true: The 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Act does cap discretionary spending, but given the temperature in Congress on the need to increase military lethality, it is entirely possible that both parties could either amend the act or seek cuts in other places.

In addition, while the FY25 defense budget proposal continues to support the integration of partner missile defenses with U.S. missile defenses, while it sustains research and development funding for joint air and missile defenses, it actually slows the fielding of a glide-phase intercept capability for hypersonic missile threats from a 2030 prototype development to a 2034 delivery.

In real terms, President Joe Biden’s new budget only funds building 12 SM-3 IIA missile interceptors and cuts production on the SM-3 IB missile interceptor — the preeminent ballistic missile defense interceptors built today.

Such a small purchase of interceptors is wildly insufficient for the emerging missile threat environment in which Russia, the Houthis and Iran are increasingly reliant upon missiles and drones in their attacks.

Indeed, only a few weeks have passed since Israel, along with American, European and Arab partners, intercepted a salvo of over 300 Iranian ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and long-range drones. American warplanes and surface vessels — likely firing Standard Missile-3 missile interceptors — contributed significantly and even achieved the first exo-atmospheric ballistic missile intercept during combat conditions. In total, reports suggest that the coalition intercepted upward of 99% of the threats.

Twelve more missile defense interceptors are not nearly enough to present a credible missile defense architecture in the Western Pacific, given that China is building thousands of missiles with a variety of ranges and capabilities. Such missile salvos from China have the potential to overwhelm current defenses on U.S. and allied bases as well as carrier strike groups across the region.

That’s why the United States should be expanding — not shrinking — theater missile defenses regionally and missile stockpiles across priority theaters of operation.

Indeed, should the United States or one of its allies ever be on the receiving end of a Chinese missile salvo akin to what Israel received, such SM-3 interceptors may be the difference between life and death for many Americans — literally.

With that in mind, Congress should pass a defense budget that includes funding for a credible missile defense architecture capable of replicating the recent successes seen in Israel in other theaters of operation, especially in the Western Pacific. While child care and payroll increases are no doubt important, they shouldn’t come at the expense of weakening our defenses from the kind of missile barrage that are becoming increasingly commonplace on the modern battlefield.

Robert Peters is a research fellow for nuclear deterrence and missile defense at the Heritage Foundation think tank. He previously served as the lead strategist at the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

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