A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor is launched from Meck Island on its way to an intercept of a ballistic missile target on Oct. 24, 2012. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

On Thursday, the U.S. military conducted a combined developmental and operational test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defense system, and Aegis ballistic missile defense system.

This has been the most complex and largest test the U.S. has ever conducted. The missile defense systems engaged five targets simultaneously, including a cruise missile during its course. The test also showed the importance of command and control integration as well as the technological maturity of the missile defense programs.

The ballistic and cruise missile threats are real. Rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea continue to develop capabilities that can threaten U.S. forward-deployed troops or U.S. allies. Their actions demonstrate the continued need to invest in the ballistic missile defense program.

Earlier this month, the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. A comprehensive layered missile defense system, preferably space-based, would deny other nations the ability to blackmail the U.S. or its allies and prevent future missile crises from happening.

The Obama Administration drastically cut the missile defense budget the first year it came into office. Its subsequent budget requests have failed to make up for the lost ground. As Representative Michael Turner (R–OH) observes, the Missile Defense Agency’s projection for fiscal year (FY) 2013–2016 “is $3.6 billion less than even President Obama’s FY12 projection for FY13–16 [from] just last year and $2 billion less than the previous administration projected for FY13.”

Such a cut, if enacted by Congress, would dramatically reduce U.S. capability to keep up with the evolving ballistic missile threat. The Administration also cut some of the most promising missile defense programs, like the Airborne Laser, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, and the Multiple Kill Vehicle, which would give the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense a better capability to defeat incoming long-range ballistic missiles.

It is essential that the U.S. advances its missile defense program faster. The threat is real. The country already has technology that would allow it to protect itself and its allies from adversarial blackmail and coercion.