(Kirk S. Lippold) – On October 12, 2000, al Qaeda attacked the USS Cole in an Osama bin Laden-inspired plot. It was a deadly lesson in the importance of providing commanders with the intelligence and equipment necessary to safeguard their forces. As the folly of sequestration is proving, the national security of our nation is a casualty to the ongoing budget wars in Washington. While the immediate impact of sequestration has proven to be muted, the real danger lies in its potential to increase the United States’ vulnerability to attack. Despite the investment of billions of taxpayer dollars, critical programs in development are being frozen in place or defunded at key milestones. All of this is being done with no prioritization based on our future operational requirements.
This is no way to defend a nation.
We, the taxpayers, have invested over $2.3 billion in the research, development and operational testing of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, which was developed to protect the United States against the growing proliferation and threat of cruise missiles and other systems capable of carrying dangerous warheads. JLENS also provides commanders the combat edge by providing a 24-hour intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability to enhance homeland defense as well as increased protection within their theaters of operations. The earlier the threat is detected, the greater your opportunities to identify, react, and counter it.
Unlike many weapons systems currently in development, JLENS is on the cusp of attaining operational capability. Regrettably, just as the system is ready to enter the production and deployment phase, the House of Representatives made the ill-advised decision to cut funding by at least $15 million and possibly $30 million and irreversibly damage a program specifically designed to provide the nation with a unique military capability. Providing the necessary funding to finish the final phase of testing is critical to ensuring the system is ready to deploy. We cannot and should not turn back on the JLENS program now.
As the Commanding Officer of USS Cole, I did not have access to the information needed to build a comprehensive picture of what was happening around my ship. In war, split-second life and death decisions are based on accurate and time-sensitive information. As history shows, having this information often means the difference between taking the first hit or responding decisively to deter or prevent an attack. The capability of JLENS is precisely what commanders need in critical theaters of operation to create time-sensitive, robust and integrated operational picture during periods of increased tension and safeguard forward deployed forces.
In the Middle East, the expanding and destabilizing threat from Iran coupled with their unabated pursuit of nuclear weapons drives the need for a comprehensive intelligence picture in the Arabian Gulf. In the Mediterranean, Syria’s ability to launch cruise missiles at both sea and land based targets continues to grow and improve, as evidenced during the recent conflicts with Israel. In the Sea of Japan, the threat remains North Korea’s ongoing development and proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Their leadership continues to destabilize the region with threats to launch another war on the Korean peninsula and use nuclear weapons against Japan, South Korea, and the continental United States.
Our nation has already lived through the consequences of sending our men and women into harms way only armed with the equipment they have on hand. Why put our military in that position again, when JLENS can provide the best state-of-the-art intelligence and surveillance equipment needed before a crisis develops? Our national investment in providing regional stability during times of rising tensions has proven invaluable in keeping oil prices stable and the economic recovery moving forward in the United States and around the world.
The American people expect their tax dollars to be used to develop and field weapon systems to keep the nation and our citizens safe from attack. Wasting a $2.3 billion investment and using sequestration as the excuse to arbitrarily withhold JLENS’ funding endangers our security by reducing our capability to defend the nation. The deployment of JLENS is critical to our defense and should be considered an absolute necessity as long as hostile nations continue to develop weapons systems to attack us.
JLENS is a proven system on the cusp of full operational capability that should be immediately and fully funded. National defense must always trump perceived budgetary shortfalls; otherwise, the nation’s blood and treasure will once again be wasted on the altar of political expediency.
(Commander Kirk S. Lippold (Ret.) was the commanding officer of USS Cole when the ship was attacked by terrorists in the port of Aden, Yemen on October 12, 2000. A decorated officer, he retired from the Navy in 2007 after 26 years and is now senior vice president for Military Policy and Strategic Development at Phillip Stutts & Company, Inc.)