(by Diane Barnes, National Journal) -- The United States is puzzling over how to block cruise missiles that theoretically could be launched from the Gulf of Mexico, even after throwing some of its most advanced technologies at the problem.
Russia and Iran have been cited as possible threats that might, at some point, lurk in the waters just off U.S. shores.
A 2013 military exercise pitted systems such as Patriot interceptors, Aegis warships and combat aircraft against potential cruise-missile or short-range ballistic missiles fired from the Gulf. But the drill highlighted a particular vulnerability to cruise missiles lobbed from that region, U.S. Northern Command head Gen. Charles Jacoby indicated in congressional testimony last week.
He said the Pentagon has "some significant challenges" in countering these missiles, but is exploring "some opportunities to use existing systems more effectively to do that." Many detailed results of the Oct. 11 drill conducted near Key West, Fla., remain classified, Jacoby said.
"The cruise-missile threat portion of that we are working on very hard," the general added at the March 13 Senate Armed Service Committee hearing, in response to a question from Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The military leader -- whose command focuses on defense of the U.S. homeland -- referenced an initiative to quickly mobilize assets against such threats in a configuration called the Joint Deployable Integrated Air and Missile Defense system.
The effort is housed within the Pentagon's Joint Test and Evaluation program, which aims to address "operational deficiencies" in military preparedness, according to information released by the Pentagon.
"The idea is to cobble together enough stuff [so] that maybe something will work. But none of these systems were designed for cruise-missile defense," Kingston Reif, an analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, said in an e-mail.
Cruise missiles can be particularly challenging to defend against, as they can be more difficult than aircraft to detect on radar and are sometimes tricky to shoot down, according to military experts.