WASHINGTON– The future of missile defense requires a new way of thinking that will benefit the American taxpayer and allow the United States to stay ahead of foreign threats, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

“As you look toward the future, it is a time, because of the economy, that we have to make some pretty significant decisions” regarding missile defense and related programs, Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright said during the 7th Annual U.S. Missile Defense Conference at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here.

Speaking to an audience of more than 300 missile defense experts, Cartwright said that keeping up with the rate of change in technology and accurately guessing the enemy has never been a forte of the military and missile defense community. And that trend must change, he noted.

“A perfect solution after the fact doesn’t do us much good,” the general said, addressing ballistic missile defense capabilities as an example. “Ballistic missiles are about as passé as sea mail. Nobody does it anymore.”

Ballistic missile threats aren’t as significant today as they once were, he explained, adding that “even countries who we consider ‘Third World’ have gone beyond that.”

The Pentagon’s focus on missile defense is shifting away from developing and improving individual weapons, such as ballistic missiles. Today and future programs must have flexibility, which is more attainable by enhancing other aspects of missile defense, he said.

“When you think about the sensors, command and control and the weapon, it’s always been about the weapon,” he explained. “The flexibility for the unknown lies in the sensors and the command and control.”

Acquiring data and intelligence through satellite interceptor and sensory systems, as well as the command and control element of identifying and prioritizing strategic and tactical objectives will provide better defense for deployed forces and allies in the long term, he continued. These facets of missile defense tie into other national security missions, such as space and cyberspace, which will bring together a more unified, cost-effective and consolidated effort.

“With the range of threats this nation will face over the next 20 years … if we’re going to do something over the next couple of years to address the unknown, then my dollars are going to go to sensor and command and control,” Cartwright said.

As the Defense Department tailors its fiscal 2010 budget, decisions for missile defense will be among the most scrutinized areas. But, the Pentagon hopes to procure the aspects that provide the most opportunity to address “the unknown” and stay ahead of the threat to protect the nation, he said.

“What it is that we really have to be doing is thinking about how to build capabilities during these hard times,” he said. “When we’re dealing with a global capability like missile defense, we’re trying to put together an architecture that will serve this nation 20 years into the future.”

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