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SDI: The Next Generation

Recent revelations that North Korea (search) is designing nuclear weapons to fit on its ballistic missiles are really bad news.

Having the vilest weapons on earth controlled by the vilest tyrant on earth poses the Number One danger facing America today.

Ditto for Japan and South Korea, and even China. All are endangered. They’re leaning back, waiting for us to solve their Number One danger.

But how?

Relying upon others for a diplomatic fix is ideal, even idealistic. Relying on our own ingenuity for a technological fix is practical, even doable.

Granted, no technology can simply “fix” the danger of North Korea threatening us with nuclear-armed missiles (search). Only regime change can do that. But missile defense (search) helps minimize, if not preclude, the tyrant’s threat of obliterating parts of America, or all of Japan, by a missile attack.

That’s why the Japanese government is increasingly keen on SDI-Lite to protect its nation. Such interest skyrocketed after North Korea fired “test” missiles over Japan, and more recently when it resumed its nuclear weapons programs (search).

Missile defense has come a long ways since Ronald Reagan launched SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative (search), more than 20 years ago.

It saved lives just this year. On opening day of the Iraqi war, Saddam launched a low-flying missile at Camp Doha (search), the coalition command headquarters for land operations. U.S. air defenders fired two PAC-3 missiles (search). The first hit the Iraqi missile head-on some five miles from the headquarters.

The Japanese sat up and took notice. A robust missile defense would not only protect their own people, but also preclude North Korea from intimidating them with nuclear-armed missiles.

As awesome as the updated Patriot performed, you ain’t seen nothing yet in effective missile defense. The next round with the Medium Extended Air Defense System (search), or MEADS, will make stunning improvements in performance. MEADS can take on all comers -- incoming tactical or medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, or aircraft. It features “hit-to-kill” technology, 360-degree-radar, and a “plug and play” network-centric system.

And MEADS has significantly lower operating costs, requiring less manpower and substantially less maintenance than used on current defense systems. So we’ll be potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars per year when replacing our 10 active duty Patriot battalions with MEADS.

Today’s air defense sensors and battle management systems -- limited in what they can see and process -- may become overwhelmed by saturated electronic battlefield and massive air campaigns. These potential shortcomings may have led to friendly-fire incidents during the war in Iraq. That wouldn’t happen with MEADS.

MEADS is also incredibly mobile. Should a rogue state like North Korea cause a regional crisis, MEADS could roll off U.S. ships or planes to offer protection within a few days, if not hours. Permanent deployment in Japan would offer permanent protection for Japan.

MEADS could help stave off a nuclear exchange in south Asia, where India and Pakistan face-off, each having nuclear weapons poised to obliterate the other. A U.S. dispatch of MEADS at the most dicey moment could dampen such a crisis. At least it would give diplomats a chance to help preclude a nuclear attack.

During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush spoke of “skipping a generation” in weapons technology. At the time I thought it was vacuous, if not mistaken. But now Bush’s approach seems downright prescient, at least when applied to missile defense. Rather than spending yet more billions of dollars for current system upgrades, let’s “skip a generation” and head right into MEADS.

Today, MEADS is on a relatively slow roll, with nearly half of the costs born by Italy and Germany. The Pentagon and Congress should expedite the program, and bring in Japan as full partner. It’s the best way to give major, even if not complete, protection against the Number One threat America, and our allies, face.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com.