In a recent article, Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, argued that the Administration’s proposal in the fiscal year 2013 budget to cut funding for the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) sends the “wrong message to Iran.” This SM-3 funding cut limits the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system and makes the country more vulnerable to rising threats.

The U.S. Navy’s Aegis BMD system utilizes SM-3 interceptors to destroy short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase of flight. Additionally, according to Heritage research, the current version of the SM-3 has the capability to counter long-range missiles in the late midcourse phase of flight. Stier describes the SM-3 as the “centerpiece of the United States’ strategic missile defense capabilities.” Despite the vital role of the SM-3 interceptor in protecting the U.S. homeland and allies from enemy missile attacks, the President’s projected cuts for fiscal year 2013 would notably reduce the number of available interceptors (from 62 to 29).

Suggested SM-3 cuts could not come at a more harmful time when considering the current global security environment. More than 32 countries possess ballistic missiles and the nuclear weapons club, which was once exclusive, has grown to nine members with Iran knocking on the door. Stier suggests that reducing the availability of SM-3 interceptors calls into question America’s ability to respond to “any escalation of the Iranian threat.” Moreover, Iran perceives this cut as America not taking the Iranian threat seriously. As a result, Israel might have less confidence in America’s ability to defend against Iranian missiles and could be more inclined to take action against Iran. SM-3 reductions make America and its allies more vulnerable to missile attacks while encouraging Iran to take advantage of such vulnerabilities.

Instead of cutting funding for the SM-3 interceptor, the U.S. needs to take practical steps to ensure that missile defense capabilities are keeping pace with the proliferation of threats. The United States should:

–          Allocate funds in the defense budget that increase SM-3 procurement to 436 interceptors by FY 2016;

–          Revive the Advanced Technological Kill Vehicle (ATKV) concept for the sea-based program to make it more effective;

–          Give the Navy greater authority over the Aegis-based missile defense program by allowing it to take the lead in creating the organizational structures needed to manage the missile defense mission effectively;

–          Maintain adequate missile defense cooperation with Israel; and

–          Revive the U.S. space-based missile defense program.

This is not the time to cut U.S. missile defense capabilities.

Bryan Kimbell is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: