Missile defense program’s effectiveness, cost scrutinized

November 3, 2014

Charles Molineaux

The June 22 test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) anti-ballistic missile system represented a high profile lift for a program that has been battered by setbacks and criticism.

“We have a first shot at protecting our entire nation, all 50 states, from the most devastating weapon in the world,” said Riki Ellison, Chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.

But a series of analyses questions the GMD’s reliability and effectiveness.

“Despite many, many billions of dollars spent on the program, it’s still not a successful program,” said Jon Isaacs with the arms control advocacy group Council for a Livable World. The group has blasted GMD’s price tag, now projected around $41-billion by the time the system is projected to be completed in 2022.

Arms control groups said the system has failed a series of tests going back to when its first interceptors were rushed off the drawing board and put into service in 2004.

A report from the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, released in April raises questions about the GMD’s reliability and its performance in intercept tests, as well as the program’s approach, unusual for defense systems, of deploying the rockets in Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force base in California, where they were first deployed in 2004, while the system is still going through trials today.

You can read the GAO report in full via this PDF file.

Ordinarily, new weapons systems must go completely through a lengthy process of testing, which can take a decade, before they’re fielded.

GMD is a creation of very familiar names, Boeing and Raytheon. It is the only antimissile system meant specifically to knock out intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The system uses a booster rocket to fly into space, then releases what’s called a “kill vehicle” to smash an incoming ICBM at 20,000 miles an hour.

In the June 22 exercise, a GMD missile, fired from Vandenberg, successfully intercepted and destroyed a target rocket launched in the South Pacific.

“Ground-based Midcourse Defense, quite frankly, is a technological achievement that no other nation on earth has been able to accomplish,” said Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks. “It’s a tremendous military capability that we the United States of America, predominantly here at Redstone Arsenal, are able to put together. So I’m very optimistic long term that we will be able to put forth a system that will protect us from rogue nations.”

“The real problem with missile defense is, it is rocket science. It’s not easy,” objected Isaacs. “Shorter range systems have been made to work but it’s a very complex effort to intercept an incoming missile from North Korea, from Iran, from Russia over many thousands of miles.”

The GAO report says the current approach of manufacturing, and deploying, and testing the interceptors all at the same time is ‘high risk,’ that it raises the possibility of having to go back and retrofit the rockets, some of which have already been set up out in the field to defend against a possible enemy attack, whether they work properly or not.”

“There’s no question about it. The GAO report is correct, there are some issues,” said Ellison, adding that GMD does suffer from being sped into action essentially as a prototype, just to get some kind of defense in place against a growing missile threat from, particularly, North Korea. “This is our best option and we’re doing the best we can with it,” he said. “It does not have the full extent of most programs the Pentagon does. Now we’re straightening it out…” Read Full Article