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Continental Air Defense: An Old Idea Whose Time has Come Back?

November 15, 2001
Council on Foreign Relations


[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

November 15, 2001

William P. Delaney, Speaker

Lee Upton, Speaker

Richard Betts, Presider

On November 15th, the John J. McCloy RT on Setting the New National Security Agenda held a meeting in DC entitled, “Continental Air Defense: An Old Idea Whose Time has Come Back?,” with William P. Delaney and Lee Upton/both of Lincoln Lab. at MIT. Dick Betts presided.

There are thousands of cruise missiles worldwide. Rogue states could take an aircraft with GPS, arm it with weapons of mass destruction and do strategic damage. Cruise missiles could be stored in containers and launched in our ports of entry. Should we be looking at cruise missile defense, not just missile defense? Do we have the right equipment and concepts to deploy a cruise missile system? There are so many planes flying that it is hard to detect a cruise missile from a confused or lost pilot. The U.S. would need a 14,000 km barrier and 260 ground radars to detect an incoming cruise missile, which would only give us a four-minute notice. We ideally need 600-1000 radars, and 19 AWACs in the air. We need to decide how much we need at each level of defense: attribution, warning, limited active defense, or active defense—the total package would cost $32 billion. RT participants asked the distance that a cruise missile would need to launch from for the U.S. to detect, attribute and get warning. They also noted that terrorists would find it easier to obtain a cruise missile than an ICBM. The same meeting was held in NY on November 16, 2001.

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