The Obama administration says missile defense isn't as important as it used to be. Its budget says otherwise.

Military analysis.
Feb. 4 2010 6:36 PM

Watch What They Spend, Not What They Say

The Obama administration says missile defense isn't as important as it used to be. Its budget says otherwise.

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates laid out his $708.2 billion budget proposal this week, he also submitted a 48-page document called the "Ballistic Missile Defense Review." Reading this review, you might think that Gates was slashing the missile-defense program. You'd be wrong.

Gates writes of "a new course for spending" that is responsive to "budgetary constraints." He says he won't deploy any system until it passes realistic tests. (In more than a decade of development, no BMD system has been subject to any realistic tests, and none has passed more than half of the rigged ones.) And he's moving away from exotic technologies based on "unrealistic concepts of operation" and designed for threats that won't exist for a long, long time, if ever. Gates says that the program will deal with threats as they evolve. But, he adds, this does not require us to push ahead with missile defenses "at the same accelerated rate" as we have "in recent years."

Advertisement

There's a mismatch, however, between Gates' words and his actions. His proposed missile defense budget for fiscal year 2011 amounts to a staggering $10.4 billion. This is $2 billion less than George W. Bush requested (and received) for missile defense—his most cherished military program—in his last year as president. But it's $700 million more than Gates himself received in FY 2010.

The program is getting more expensive and, in some respects, more exotic—not less.

First, let's get straight on how much money this program is consuming, a more complicated matter than any other part of the defense budget. In his Feb. 2 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates said he was requesting $9.9 billion for missile defense. But the day before, at the Pentagon's press briefings on the budget, David Altwegg, the program manager for the Missile Defense Agency, put the figure at $8.4 billion.

What accounts for the difference? Three things.

First, the Missile Defense Agency controls most, but not all, of the money for missile defense. The Army controls the program for upgraded Patriot surface-to-air missiles; that amounts to about $1 billion. Various support items for these missiles, also in the Army budget, add up to another $400 million. A space-laser research program, once in the MDA budget but now in the Pentagon's research and engineering office, takes up $100 million. (See the Defense Department's budget books on these items.)

Those three items add up to $1.5 billion—the difference between the two statements by Altwegg and Gates.

Quite apart from this, the Air Force is requesting another $500 million for the space-based infrared system, or SBIRS. This is an element of the missile-defense system, even though, for reasons I've never understood, no administration has ever included it in the missile-defense budget.

So, Gates' $9.9 billion, plus $500 million for SBIRS, equals $10.4 billion. This is not exactly a sign of heeding "budgetary constraints."

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 5:19 PM Washington’s Acting Roles
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.