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Post-Cold War missiles still pose world threats, defense official says

December 4th, 2012 Posted in Opinion

Story & Photos by D. Whitney Smith

LOGAN—Although the Cold War and the nuclear arms race have been over since the 1980s, ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are a primary source of new threats faced by the United States and its allies, the director of the U.S. Office of Missile Defense Policy told a USU audience Monday.

The Cold War may be over, but missiles still pose a significant threat, Defense Department official says. D. Whitney Smith photo

“There have been a number of instances in the last few years where you see fairly sophisticated military capabilities held by non-state actors, such as Hamas and Hezbollah in the conflicts with Israel,” Peppi DeBiaso, a guest of the political science department, told a small group gathered in the Haight Alumni House. “[This] demonstrates a sort of growing appetite for more sophisticated technology, including long-range rockets, artillery—even possibly short-range ballistic missiles.”

These continuing threats explain the need for his office, which is part of the the Secretary of Defense’s office, to devise strategies to address the growing number of countries with ballistic missiles and WMD, he said—a “complicated set of challenges.”

Ballistic missile technology is “widely available” and certain threats are “growing rapidly,” DeBiaso said in his presentation, describing thousands of short- and medium-range missiles owned by Iran, Syria and North Korea.

“The possession of WMD and ballistic missiles really magnifies the regional threats,” DeBiaso said. “It’s one thing to worry about Syria, Iran or North Korea just [possessing] conventional capabilities. But when you begin to introduce missiles potentially armed with WMD, the nature of that conflict obviously turns far more dangerous and risk-laden.”

DeBiaso and his staff are responsible for developing and implementing missile-defense policy and security cooperation programs with foreign governments and their military establishments, said Bradley Thayer, head of the political science department, which hosted DeBiaso.

The weapons expert also spoke about Israel’s “Iron Dome System,” a complicated air-defense system protecting key Israeli targets that was put to the test during recent conflicts with Hamas. DeBiaso said Iron Dome is part of a joint U.S.-Israeli defense program—not a ballistic missile-defense system, although it does target artillery and long-range rockets.

Missile expert Peppi DeBiaso discusses modern global weapons threats at a political science department event at the Haight Alumni House. D. Whitney Smith photo

“They have developed and deployed Iron Dome, and it has proven pretty effective,” DeBiaso said. “There’s something like over 1,000 rockets and artillery shells coming out of Gaza. It’s protected the population of Israel.”

Army Maj. Matt Badell, military science department head at USU, said Iron Dome and mobile defense systems like it are capable of an 80 percent to 90 percent success rate at stopping artillery rounds and protection troops and ground assets. He also said Iron Dome is a key example of extremely useful U.S.-funded and engineered foreign-defense projects.

“[DeBiaso] gave the national perspective on our missile defense systems,” Badell said. “Just to have that perspective, even if it’s not something I use every day, is valuable education.”

Later in the day DeBiaso spoke in a Q&A session to members of the Army ROTC, and discussed future employment opportunities for cadets who might be interested in policy-making or government think-tank programs, Badell said.

“They have the opportunity to work in D.C., where he is, and help him with making policy,” Badell said, referring to potential future opportunities for ROTC cadets who choose to continue working for the government after graduation.

“So their institutional knowledge from their [experience at USU] will help them in helping make policy in the future,” Badell said. “USU is just a great—we’re leaning forward in the cockpit as far as getting people here to broaden the view of our students, making them more viable in the future battle space.”

Another individual concerned with job opportunities in Utah, Gary Harter of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, also came to USU Monday morning to hear DeBiaso speak.

Harter said Utah has a history of significant interest in the development of missile-defense technologies, referring to Hill Air Force Base, minuteman missile maintenance, and USU’s Space Dynamics Lab, which has continued to work on elements of space-based missile-defense systems.

“Certainly, missile defense is very important,” Harter said. When asked about job growth in Utah, he added, “From what [DeBiaso] put out there, it looks like there’s going to be more and more going on [with job growth] if the threat continues to grow.

“Utah has a great workforce,” he said. “I hear we have a lot of great expertise, and, certainly, depending on what decisions are made with national defense, we could certainly be a piece of that.”

DeBiaso concluded his talk at the Alumni House by reiterating the assertion that ballistic missile technology is spreading throughout the world, and for this reason, the United States continues to work to improve its ballistic missile-defense capabilities.

Far from the Cold War context, he said U.S. ballistic missiles pose no threat to Russia, and there are “promising cooperation proposals on the table.”


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