Proponents of ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs are poised to hold President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to their words when they say that BMD systems are required in the face of burgeoning worldwide missile threats, including the European Missile Defense (EMD) system.

The Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA), headed by Riki Ellison, referred to comments that Obama made in Prague, the Czech Republic, during a European trip. The EMD radar would be hosted by the Czechs. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 6, 2009,)

As we reported previously, Obama said, “As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven.”

The president said that Iran does pose a genuine threat.

“Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies.”

As he has said previously, Obama said if Iran were to surrender its nuclear and missile programs, then perhaps the EMD wouldn’t be needed.

“If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defence construction in Europe will be removed,” Obama said.

Separately, Gates made comments at the Pentagon as he released his Department of Defense budget proposals to Obama covering the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010, in which Gates urged retaining and bolstering some BMD systems such as the sea-based Aegis weapon control system and its companion Standard Missile interceptors, and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system. Gates noted that he is bolstering those two BMD programs with $700 million in his plan, and also is providing $200 million to upgrade four more Aegis ships to BMD capabilities.

At the same time, the Gates plan would shred some still-in-development BMD systems, such as the Airborne Laser (no more planes), the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (no more interceptors), and the EMD system (no new money in fiscal 2010). In all, his plan would whack a total $1.4 billion from the roughly $10 billion yearly that has been spent on BMD programs.

Rather that dwell on those systems taking hits, Ellison decided to take a positive view of these developments, which came as North Korea launched a long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile that flew more than 1,200 miles (short of its roughly 4,000-mile range).

Obama and Gates, in their statements, “have made a strategic decision to support and field a missile defense capability,” Ellison noted. “This Administration has acknowledged the threat of ballistic missiles from Iran and North Korea in the near-term, and have defied the critics of missile defense by deploying what we have now, and the fundamental policy question of whether we should do missile defense or not do missile defense has been answered.”

According to Ellison, “missile defense looks to be an embedded core element of the defense of the United States, and will be part of the underlying fabric of American defense capabilities.

“This Administration has clearly ratified the idea that ballistic missiles are a real threat to the United States, its allies and the armed forces,” Ellison said. “The preliminary budget shows clear determination to field the near-term capabilities in face of the threat and keep and deploy what we have developed. Those near-term systems include Aegis, THAAD and the long range Ground-Base interceptors. It is a fundamental change from those that say they support missile defense but don’t want to deploy it until it is perfect. Secretary Gates added an additional $900 million in new money for some of the current deployed systems.”

To be sure, Ellison doesn’t expect BMD programs in the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to have an easy ride through Congress, including the GMD system.

“The programmatic decision making will be heavily debated, with the hold on 33 long-range interceptors in Alaska being the most contentious, as a $1.4 billion cut to MDA was announced and what programs will work in the future and the research and developments efforts needed for a robust, layered, missile defense system. One would hope, after the events that happened this week, that every possible part of missile defense be fully funded and restored but in an era of limited resources, [gigantic and mushrooming] outstanding national debt, and other important needs in other fields, that will be a challenging task to accomplish.”

“We commend Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and President Barack Obama for making the strategic decision to embrace missile defense,” Ellison stated