Anti-missile test succeeds; system still not functional

The U.S. military on May 30 cheered a successful anti-missile defense test involving a simulated attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile. The military fired an ICBM-type missile from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It then fired a missile to intercept it from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The “kill vehicle” successfully separated from the interceptor and destroyed the target by impact.

The Missile Defense Agency said it was the first live-fire test against a simulated ICBM for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system and hailed it as a major milestone for a program meant to defend against a North Korean threat. Prior to this test, the GMD system had successfully hit its target in only nine of 17 tests since 1999. The last previous test was in 2014.

Even though the $244-million test met its goals, it did not confirm that the United States is capable of defending itself against an ICBM fired by North Korea, if that country does eventually develop one. In the first place, personnel conducting the test knew the speed, location and trajectory of the target ahead of time, as well as when it would be launched — information that would not be available in an actual attack.

Moreover, the GMD system still has not been tested against realistic targets, such as tumbling warheads and warheads accompanied by simple decoys (balloons). The inability of heat sensors and accompanying discrimination software to distinguish between a real warhead and decoys has been an unsolved problem for 30 years. And the heat sensors could be defeated by something as simple as using liquid nitrogen to cool a warhead before launch.

GMD’s unsolved problems existed when President George W. Bush decided to deploy the system in 2004. To do so, he exempted the Missile Defense Agency from standard Defense Department acquisition and testing procedures.

A report released in July 2016 by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the GMD system is “simply unable to protect the U.S. public.”

In spite of still not being functional, Congress has authorized the Pentagon to add 14 more interceptors to the 26 in Alaska by the end of this year.

– edited from Reuters and The Associated Press
PeaceMeal, May/Jume 2017

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U.S. missile defense system is ‘simply unable to protect the public’

The system designed to defend American cities and towns against a nuclear attack by North Korea is “simply unable to protect the U.S. public,” despite more than a decade of development and a bill of $40 billion, according to a new report. Moreover, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system will remain ineffective unless Congress exerts rigorous oversight.

The report, released in July by the Union of Concerned Scientists, recommends that the Obama administration halt expan-sion of the GMD system until its technical problems have been solved. “The story of this system is a cautionary tale about how the lack of appropriate oversight of a politically charged missile defense program has led to a system in tatters,” says the report, written by three physicists with expertise in missile defense.

The GMD system is intended to thwart a “limited” nuclear attack by a non-superpower adversary, such as North Korea or Iran. In the event of an attack, rocket interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Ft. Greely, Alaska, would be launched from underground silos. Once in space, the interceptors would separate from their booster rockets and attempt to collide with and “kill” enemy warheads.

The report points out that, in “heavily scripted” flight tests that are “set up for success,” GMD interceptors have often failed to hit mock enemy warheads — even though personnel conducting the tests know the speed, location and trajectory of the target ahead of time, as well as when it will be launched. In the seven most recent tests, interceptors destroyed their targets just three times, the report says — a finding consistent with conclusions of the Pentagon’s own operational test and evaluation office.

The report notes that members of Congress and Pentagon officials insisted on deploying and expanding the system at a rapid pace — at the expense of sound procurement and engineering. “Repeatedly,” the report says, “the Pentagon has sacrificed quality, shortened engineering cycles, and sidestepped acquisitions best practices to meet a deadline imposed by political rationales rather than technical realities.”

Pentagon officials also have made “unsubstantiated claims about the system’s effectiveness,” the report says, calling this “both cynical and a disservice to the public.” In a GMD flight test held in January, a crucial component stopped working during the test, causing an interceptor to fly far off course. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency and two of its lead contractors, nevertheless, issued news releases that pronounced the test a success, with no mention of the malfunction.

The Union of Concerned Scientists was formed in 1969 by students and faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology specifically to resist what they saw as the government’s misuse of science and technology for military aims.

The new 60-page report, “Shielded from Oversight: The Disastrous U.S. Approach to Strategic Missile Defense,” traces GMD’s problems to President George W. Bush’s decision to make the system operational in 2004 before the highly complex interceptors had been successfully tested. The report says that the Obama administration “has continued a similarly lax approach to missile defense.”

For instance, the administration has kept in place Bush’s decision exempting the Missile Defense Agency from standard Defense Department acquisition and testing procedures. With bipartisan support in Congress, Obama has directed the agency to expand the GMD fleet — despite its technical failures — from the present 30 interceptors to a total of 44 by the end of next year.

The physicists write that “the continued development of the GMD system without adequate oversight and accountability, and the continued fielding of interceptors without adequate testing, means the system is not even on a path to achieving a useful ability to intercept ballistic missiles.”

Boeing is the Pentagon’s prime contractor for the GMD; the interceptors are built by Raytheon; and the component that malfunctioned during the January flight test, called a divert thruster, is manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

– edited from the Tribune Washington Bureau, July 14, 2016
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2016

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Pentagon skips tests on key component of U.S.-based missile defense system

WASHINGTON DC – Against the advice of its own panel of outside experts, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency is forgoing tests meant to ensure that a critical component of the nation’s homeland missile defense system will work as intended. The tests that are being skipped would evaluate the reliability of divert thrusters, which are vital to help keep rocket interceptors on course to intercept and destroy incoming warheads.

The performance of the divert thrusters on the kill vehicles, which separate from their booster rockets in space, has been a source of concern for several years. In response, a new and sup-posedly better version, the alternate divert thruster, was developed.

An outside panel of experts privately advised the MDA to put the alternate divert thrusters through “hot fire” testing, in which they would be fired on the ground to see whether they burned smoothly and delivered adequate propulsion. But in order to stay on schedule for a planned expansion of the Ground-based Missile Defense system, none of the 40 thrusters that are being installed on 10 new interceptors will undergo hot-fire testing.

The MDA is working to expand the number of interceptors at Ft. Greely, Alaska, from 26 to 40 by the end of 2017, based on a commitment made by the Obama administration. Forgoing the tests “increases the risk for reliability issues going undetected,” according to a newly released report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The GAO report said the missile agency was “relying on a highly optimistic, aggressive schedule that overlaps development and testing with production activities, compromises reliability [and] extends risk to the warfighter.”

 The MDA disagreed with the GAO’s conclusion because it had completed “a very thorough series” of hot-fire tests on experimental thrusters. But analyst Cristina Chaplain, author of the GAO report, said the hot-fire testing of experimental models “does not give you much insight into whether” the thrusters produced for integration into the nation’s arsenal will be “free from workmanship or quality problems.”

In 2002, President George W. Bush ordered “an initial set of missile defense capabilities” to be put in place within two years. To accelerate deployment, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rums-feld exempted the MDA from the Air Force’s standard “fly before you buy” policy. Engineers trace the system’s difficulties to the breakneck pace at which components were produced and fielded.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall III has also attributed the problems largely to the MDA’s rushed schedule. “The root cause was a desire to field these things very quickly and very cheaply,'” Kendall told a defense conference in early 2014, adding, “We are seeing a lot of bad engineering, frankly, and it was because there was a rush.”

The GMD system is meant to repel a “limited” missile attack by Iran or North Korea, neither of which possesses an inter-continental ballistic missile or a miniaturized nuclear warhead to carry on one. The U.S. defense against a massive nuclear attack by Russia or China still relies on “mutually assured destruction,” the Cold War doctrine that neither country would strike first for fear of a devastating counterattack.

The GAO report concludes that the MDA’s flight testing of interceptors has been “insufficient to demonstrate that an operationally useful defense capability exists.” In highly scripted flight tests over the Pacific, interceptors have failed to hit mock enemy warheads about half the time.

Philip E. Coyle III, an engineer who formerly headed the Pentagon’s operational testing office, said that the missile agency is inviting unnecessary risk by scrapping the recommended hot- fire testing. The approach, Coyle said, conjures up “the old saying, ‘Why is there never enough time to do it right—but always enough time to do it over?’ ’’

The divert thrusters will be evaluated in an exercise later this year in which a rocket and its kill vehicle will again attempt to intercept a mock warhead.

– edited from an article by David Willman in the Los Angeles Times, March 17, 2016
PeaceMeal, March/April 2016

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The Pentagon’s $10 billion missile-defense bet gone bad

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency were effusive about the new technology. It was the most powerful radar of its kind in the world, they told Congress, so powerful it could detect a baseball at a distance of 2,500 miles. If North Korea launched a sneak attack, the Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX) would spot the incoming missiles, track them through space, and guide U.S. rocket-interceptors to destroy them. Crucially, the system would be able to distinguish between actual missiles and decoys.

In reality, the giant floating radar has been a $2.2 billion flop, a Los Angeles Times investigation has found. Although it can powerfully magnify distant objects, its field of vision is so narrow that it would be of little use against what technical experts consider the likeliest attack: a sequence of incoming missiles interspersed with decoys. In addition, because of Earth’s curvature, SBX would not be able to see a missile at a distance of 2,500 miles unless it was 200 miles higher than the expected maximum altitude of a long-range missile headed to the U.S.

 Over the last decade, the Missile Defense Agency has sunk nearly $10 billion into SBX and three other programs that had to be killed or sidelined after they proved unworkable. The four ill-fated programs were all intended to address a key vulnerability in U.S. defenses: If an enemy launched decoys along with real missiles, U.S. radars could be fooled, causing rocket-interceptors to be fired at the wrong objects and increasing the risk that actual warheads would slip through.

In addition to SBX, the programs were:

• The Airborne Laser, envisioned as a fleet of converted Boeing 747s that would fire laser beams to destroy enemy missiles soon after launch — before they could release decoys. It turned out that the lasers could not be fired over sufficient distances, so the planes would have to fly within or near an enemy’s borders continuously. The program was canceled in 2012, after a decade of testing. The cost: $5.3 billion.

• The Kinetic Energy Interceptor, a rocket designed to be fired from land or sea to destroy enemy missiles during their early stage of flight. But the interceptor was too long to fit on Navy ships and on land would have to be positioned so close to its target that it would be vulnerable to attack. The program was killed in 2009, after six years of development. The cost: $1.7 billion.

• The Multiple Kill Vehicle, a cluster of miniature interceptors that would destroy enemy missiles along with any decoys. After four years of development, MDA’s contractors had not conducted a single test flight. The cost: nearly $700 million.

Boeing Co., the agency’s prime contractor for homeland defense, designed SBX. Boeing’s design called for the huge radar to be placed atop a specially modified off-shore drilling platform. Raytheon Co. built the system’s radar components. Both companies are among the world’s biggest defense contractors and are major political donors. Members of Congress whose states and districts benefited from the spending tenaciously defended the programs, even after their deficiencies became evident.

These expensive flops stemmed in part from dire warnings by defense hawks that North Korea and Iran were close to developing long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States. President George W. Bush, in 2002, ordered an urgent effort to field a homeland missile defense system within two years. In their rush to make that deadline, Missile Defense Agency officials latched onto exotic, unproven concepts without doing a rigorous analysis of their feasibility or cost.

Retired Air Force Gen. Eugene E. Habiger, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command and a member of a National Academy of Sciences-sponsored review of the MDA, said the agency’s blunders reflected a failure to analyze alternatives or seek indepen-dent cost estimates. “They are totally off in la-la land,” he said.

The agency’s current director, Vice Adm. James D. Syring, declined to be interviewed.

SBX was supposed to be operational by 2005, based in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to detect a missile attack from North Korea. But the vessel burned millions of gallons of fuel to power the radar or move about. It had to be resupplied at sea, and wind and salt water posed unrelenting challenges for sensitive instruments. As a consequence, SBX was never based at its specially prepared Alaskan berth. Instead, it spends most of the year mothballed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. In 2012, it was downgraded to “limited test support status.”

The government recently began seeking proposals for a new radar to help fulfill SBX’s original purpose. The target date for it to be installed on land in Alaska is 2020, and the estimated cost is $1 billion.

– edited from the Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2015
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2015

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Pentagon preparing EIS for Ballistic Missile Defense System on East Coast

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has announced its intention to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for possible construction of a Ballistic Missile Defense System on the East Coast of the United States. The MDA has selected possible locations in the east that would be suited for future deployment of an interceptor system for protection against ballistic missile threats from nations such as North Korea and Iran.

The MDA is preparing the EIS to evaluate the potential environmental impacts that could result from the future deployment of the Continental United States Interceptor Site (CIS). If deployed, the CIS would be similar to the existing Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the BMDS located at Fort Greely, Alaska and would consist of an initial deployment of 20 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) with the ability to expand upward to 60 GBIs.

Alternatives to be analyzed include the No-Action Alternative and sites at the Combined Training Center Fort Custer—Michigan Army National Guard, Augusta, MI; Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center—Ohio Army National Guard, Portage and Trumbull Counties, OH; Fort Drum Army Base, Fort Drum, NY; and the Center for Security Forces Detachment Kittery Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Facility (SERE East), Redington Township, ME.

At each site, impacts will be assessed for the following resource categories: air quality, air space, biological, cultural, geology and soils, hazardous materials and hazardous waste management, health and safety, land use, noise, socioeconomics, transportation, utilities, water quality, wetlands, visual and aesthetic, environmental justice, and subsistence. The GBIs would not be fired from their deployment site except in the Nation’s defense and no test firing would be conducted at the CIS.

The Department of Defense has not made a decision to deploy or construct the CIS. In fact, a year ago the Pentagon said there was no military requirement for an East Coast site, but Congress directed the Pentagon to explore options for where such a site might be located.

Moreover, the existing BMDS at Fort Greely has zero capability to protect the United States from even a limited ballistic missile attack. The last three tests of the system in five years all failed to intercept a target missile, demonstrating the inability of the many-billion-dollar system to serve as a defensive “shield.” And, as with all previous tests, the latest ones were rigged: the intercept team knew in advance the timing, trajectory, speed and radar signature of the incoming missile — information that obviously would not be available in real-life combat.

In addition, the GMD system has a fundamental and fatal flaw. It cannot discriminate between a real warhead and simple decoys that would accompany attacking missiles. Discriminating between a warhead and accompanying decoys and debris has been an insoluble problem for 31 years.

On top of it all, neither North Korea nor Iran has a ballistic missile with a range to reach the United States. And although North Korea has conducted nuclear explosions, it is doubtful that it has even developed a deliverable nuclear weapon, much less one small enough to be delivered by ballistic missile.

– edited from Department of Defense and Arms Control Today
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2014

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U.S. missile defense system continues string of test failures

The Pentagon’s Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD) system failed to intercept a target missile for the third consecutive time in nearly five years, again demonstrating the inability of the many-billion-dollar system to serve as a defensive “shield” against North Korean and Iranian nuclear missiles that don’t even have the capability to reach the United States.

During a July 5 test, a ground-based interceptor was launched from a silo at Vandenberg AFB in California against a target lofted from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. There was no possibility of the self-guided “kill vehicle” intercepting the target because it failed to separate from its booster rocket during the final flight stage — a failure that happened twice previously.

Even if the interception had been successful, the $214 million test would not have proved much. As with all previous tests, the latest one was essentially rigged: the intercept team knew in advance the timing, trajectory, speed and radar signature of the incoming missile. Such luxury obviously would not be available in real-life combat.

The failure is an embarrassment for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who hastily added the test of the GMD system to the schedule in response to North Korea’s third test of a nuclear weapon in February. The test was intended to showcase the ability of the United States to shoot down an incoming ballistic missile in an effort to deter the nuclear ICBM ambitions of the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

Moreover, the GMD system has a fundamental and fatal flaw. It cannot discriminate between a real warhead and simple decoys that would accompany attacking missiles. In the vacuum of space, warheads, balloon decoys and missile debris travel together. Discriminating between a warhead and accompanying junk has been an insoluble problem for 30 years.

Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. James Syring cited this key problem in congressional hearings in May. The Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, Michael Gilmore, reaffirmed the problem during the same hearings. “If we can’t discriminate what the real threatening objects are,” Gilmore said, “it doesn’t matter how many ground-based interceptors we have. We won’t be able to hit what needs to be hit.”

Originally deployed by the George W. Bush administration and now managed by Boeing under a a $3.5 billion contract, there are 30 of the GMD interceptors based in Alaska and California at a cost of about $34 billion. The Pentagon wants to deploy an additional 14 interceptors in Alaska by 2017 at a cost of another $1 billion. Defense Secretary Hagel has said that successful testing is a prerequisite for expansion of the nonfunctional system.

– compiled and edited from Aviation Week, Reuters and Bloomberg
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Our fruitless quest for missile defense

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on March 15 that the administration will spend $1 billion to add 14 more ballistic missile interceptors to those based at Fort Greely, Alaska, to counter renewed threats of nuclear attack from North Korea and Iran. That will boost U.S. missile defense capability by 50 percent, Hagel said.

Never mind that the 26 interceptors already there have never been subjected to a realistic test. In controlled tests against sitting ducks, those weapons missed their targets as often as they hit them. So, adding 50 percent of zero to our “defense” capability does nothing but increase the profits of the weapons industry.

It’s tempting to think that we must have mastered missile defense by now, if only because we’ve been working on it for so long. Hagel’s announcement came shortly before the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech, in which he envisioned making “nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete” by building an invisible protective shield over the United States.

It’s also tempting because the idea is so darn agreeable. Who wouldn’t want the U.S. military to be able to knock down incoming warheads like King Kong swatting away biplanes? Who wouldn’t want to make sure no deranged dictator can vaporize Times Square?

Keep wishing. Over the past three decades, the Defense Department has burned through some $200 billion chasing this dream — more, adjusted for inflation, than NASA needed to put all those men on the moon. While it took less than a decade for astronauts to plant the American flag in the lunar dust, we are still waiting for any semblance of a missile shield.

The U.S. missile defense program has been an exercise in frustration and waste. The undertaking is so difficult that the Pentagon no longer even dreams of being able to foil a massive attack by Russia or China. Its biggest ambition is to knock down a rocket or two from some rogue nation that is willing to risk being turned into a radioactive pile of gravel by a U.S. retaliatory strike.

Even there, the technical requirements are beyond attainment. Last year, a report by the National Academy of Sciences enumerated the essential requirements of such a system and concluded our deployed system is “deficient with respect to all of these principles.”

Besides, North Korea is “years away from the ability to field a missile with a nuclear warhead that could hit the United States,” according to Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear arms expert at the Ploughshares Fund. But North Korea finds it useful to pretend they can do it.

And apparently President Barack Obama is willing to play along, countering fiction with fiction. “I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney, citing the missile defense system deployed by the George W. Bush administration.

To have any realistic hope of destroying a ballistic warhead, you have to be able to track it during its midcourse, while it’s above the atmosphere, and distinguish it from simple decoys. The CIA has said North Korea and Iran should be able to develop decoys by the time they have usable ICBMs. In the vacuum of space, simple decoys (balloons) released with the warhead would travel at the same speed and be extremely difficult to distinguish. That was the unsolved problem 30 years ago, and it’s still the unsolved problem today.

– edited from an article by Steve Chapman, a member of the editorial board, Chicago Tribune, March 21, 2013
PeaceMeal, May/June 2013

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Russia may target U.S. missile shield in Europe

MOSCOW — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened on November 23 to deploy missiles to target the planned U.S. missile shield in Europe if Washington fails to assuage Moscow’s concerns about its plans, a harsh warning that reflected deep cracks in U.S.-Russian ties despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to “reset” relations with the Kremlin. Medvedev said he still hopes for a deal with the U.S. on the missile defense system, but he strongly accused Washington and its NATO allies of ignoring Russia’s worries. He said that Russia will have to take military countermeasures if the U.S. continues to build the shield without legal guarantees that it will not be aimed against Russia.

The U.S. plan calls for placing land- and sea-based radars and interceptors in European locations, including Romania and Poland, over the next decade and upgrading them over time. The Obama administration has repeatedly said the shield is needed to fend off a potential threat from Iran, but Russia fears that it could erode the deterrent potential of its nuclear forces. Washington repeated previous assurances that the proposed missile defense system wouldn’t be directed against Russia’s nuclear forces. But Medvedev said Moscow will not be satisfied by simple declarations and wants a binding agreement. He stated, “When we propose to put in on paper in the form of precise and clear legal obligations, we hear a strong refusal.”

Medvedev warned that Russia will station missiles in Kaliningrad, a Baltic Sea region bordering Poland, and other areas, if the U.S. continues its plans without a legal agreement. He didn’t say whether the missiles would carry conventional or nuclear warheads.

Moscow has agreed to consider a proposal NATO made last fall to cooperate on the missile shield, but the talks have been deadlocked over how the system would be operated. Russia has insisted that it should be run jointly, which NATO has rejected.

Medvedev also warned that Moscow may opt out of the New START arms control deal with the United States and halt other arms control talks, if the U.S. proceeds with the missile shield without meeting Russia’s security demand. The Americans had hoped that the START treaty would stimulate progress in further ambitious arms control efforts, but such talks have stalled because of tension over the missile plan.

The U.S. missile defense dispute has long tarnished ties between Moscow and Washington, and the current dispute is a case of double deja v.

On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan’s proposal of the Strategic Defense Initiative, the “Star Wars” project to develop an impenetrable shield over the United States against nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, threatened to destabilize the deterrent balance of power between the U.S. and Soviet Union. The Soviets suspended negotiations on the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons in protest.

Again on June 13, 2002, President George W. Bush unilaterally abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a cornerstone of nuclear arms control since it was signed by President Richard Nixon in 1972, in order to proceed with deployment of a national missile defense system in Alaska and California. The following day, Russia withdrew from the START II Treaty with the United States, which would have reduced the strategic nuclear arsenals of both countries.

– edited from The Associated Press, November 23, 2011
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2011

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U.S. missile intercept test fails again

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – An interceptor missile launched from California on December 15 failed to hit a target fired from a Pacific atoll 4,000 miles away during another unsuccessful test of the United States anti-ballistic missile defense system, the Air Force announced. The ground-based interceptor missile lifted off from coastal Vandenberg Air Force Base, 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles, just after midnight and released an “exoatmospheric kill vehicle” (EKV) that was to collide with a target missile fired from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The interceptor’s sensors worked and the EKV was deployed, but it missed the target, according to a statement from Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. The cause of the failure will be investigated before another $100-million test is scheduled, Lehner said.

The MDA noted that the Sea-Based X-Band Radar, a critical component of the system, performed as planned. The radar, which cost more than $800 million, is mounted on an oceangoing-platform that can be towed to any point where the military needs to track missiles. The 280-foot-tall radar was built by Raytheon Co. for the Boeing Co., the prime contractor on the project.

In recent years the military has held a series of tests of the ABM system, which is intended to defend against ballistic missiles that might be developed by countries such as North Korea and Iran with sufficient range to reach the United States. The system was deployed by the George W. Bush administration at Fort Greeley, Alaska, in addition to Vandenberg AFB. It has been termed “cost-effective and proven” by President Obama and has continued to fail miserably.

In January 2010, the interceptor failed to hit its target because of two separate failures—either one of which would have been fatal for the people it hypothetically would have protected. The MDA’s massive sea-based radar was confused by the stream of incompletely burned solid fuel from the engine of the target rocket. And in addition, there was a failure of a thruster needed to steer the kill vehicle and it failed to intercept and collide with the target missile.

Riki Ellison, head of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a booster group, said of the latest test: “This is a tremendous setback for the testing of this complicated system.” He said it raised troubling questions about the reliability of the interceptor missiles deployed in silos in Alaska and California.

Approaching an incredible 30 years now and already wasting some $200 billion, the succession of agencies commissioned to pursue the Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” fantasy have not produced anything with the functionality of a Model T.

– edited from The Associated Press, Aviation Week and Reuters
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2010

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

U.S. missile intercept test misses by miles

A U.S. attempt to shoot down a ballistic missile mimicking an attack from Iran failed on Sunday, January 31, 2010, due to a malfunction in a radar built by Raytheon Co., the Defense Department announced. It was the first time the United States had tested its long-range missile defense system against a simulated Iranian attack. After the failed Pacific test, Raytheon and Boeing, which manages the overall system, had no immediate comment.

The Missile Defense Agency said that both the target missile in the test, fired around 3:40 p.m. from Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, and the interceptor, fired minutes later from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, had performed normally. “However, the Sea-Based X-band radar did not perform as expected,” the agency said. The SBX radar is a major component of the Ground-based Mid-course Defense (GMD) system, the sole U.S. bulwark against long-range missiles that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. The radar is mounted on a mobile, ocean-going oil-drilling platform designed to provide the layered U.S. missile defense system with a powerful sensor that can be positioned to cover any spot on the globe.

Speaking at an Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington in December, Army Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, said the test, costing about $150 million, would break new ground. He described it then as “more of a head-on shot, like you would use defending against an Iranian shot into the United States.” O’Reilly said the goal was to destroy the target over the Pacific when the missiles had a combined closing speed of more than 17,000 miles per hour. Experts have compared the simulation to a bullet trying to hit another bullet in space.

The day after the failed test, the executive director of the Missile Defense Agency, David Altwegg, took broad aim at defense contractors for chronic quality-control lapses. “I’m not going to name names today, but I’m going to tell you we continue to be disappointed in the quality that we are receiving from our prime contractors and their subs — very, very disappointed,” Altwegg said. Quality control has been an issue for military procurement for decades and is not unique to the missile defense organization, according to Altwegg, a retired rear admiral.

Faulty missile defense components have led to an enormous amount of “rework” that costs taxpayer money. The GMD program carries an estimated $35.5 billion price tag, according to the Government Accountability Office. The Pentagon is requesting $8.4 billion for MDA programs for fiscal 2011, a $525 million increase over 2010 appropriations.

In six of 16 GMD intercept flight tests since 1999, the missile has failed to hit its target. In another two, target or missile-decoy failures made it impossible for the main test objectives to be met.

A major congressionally mandated Ballistic Missile Defense Review report released February 1 asserts, “Before new capabilities are deployed, they must undergo testing that enables assessment under realistic operational conditions.”

However, there will probably not be another test until next year. Although Congress has repeatedly called for more frequent tests of the system under more realistic and challenging conditions, MDA director Altwegg said, “We find [that] with the pre-mission analysis that goes on and the post-flight analysis ... one year is about the limit — and it certainly is a challenge financially.”

President George W. Bush, who unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in December 2001, began the deployment of 10 interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, Alaska, and two at Vandenberg in 2004, unconcerned that they had never been subjected to realistic testing. Six years later, they still have not.

– edited from Reuters, Feb. 1, 2010 and Global Security Newswire, Feb. 2, 2010
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2010

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Obama to scrap Bush’s approach to missile shield

President Obama announced on Sept. 17 that he would scrap former President George W. Bush’s planned European missile defense system, consisting of a sophisticated radar in the Czech Republic and 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland. That system involved immensely expensive technology that still doesn’t work, designed for a threat that may never materialize. Instead, Obama will deploy a reconfigured system consisting of smaller SM-3 missiles, at first aboard ships and later on land, aimed at intercepting short- and medium-range Iranian missiles.

The decision amounts to one of the biggest national security reversals by the Obama administration, one that has caused consternation in Poland and the Czech Republic. But Russia, which had adamantly objected to the Bush plan, responded by canceling its plan to deploy missile systems near the border with Poland. Administration officials stressed that they are not abandoning missile defense, only redesigning it to meet the more immediate Iranian threat.

The decision drew immediate Republican criticism. “Scrapping the U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our allies in Europe,” said Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House minority leader.

Anticipating the criticism, Mr. Obama said the decision was based on the unanimous recommendation of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Gates, a Republican first appointed by Mr. Bush, said the new system would actually put defenses in place seven years earlier than the Bush plan. He noted that land-based SM-3 missiles would eventually be located in Europe and said “we would prefer to put the SM-3’s in Poland.” Mr. Gates added that the new configuration “provides a better missile defense capability” for Europe and American forces there “than the program I recommended almost three years ago.”

The Obama review of missile defense was influenced in large part by evidence that Iran has made significant progress toward developing medium-range missiles that could threaten Europe, even as the prospects for an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States remain distant. A further reason for the shift is to get better defenses in place sooner and closer to Israel to mitigate Israel’s desire to take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

  – edited from The New York Times and Los Angeles Times
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2009

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Missile defense ideology and counterspin

Chaos enveloping U.S. efforts to build an effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) system is summarized in a March 16 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Missile Defense Agency (MDA) activities. GAO’s key findings include:

• Performance and Testing: “None of the six Director’s test knowledge points established by MDA for 2008 were achieved. Poor performing target missiles have been a persistent problem. Testing shortfalls have slowed the validation of models and simulations, which are needed to assess the system’s overall performance.”

• Cost: “MDA has not yet established baselines for total costs or unit costs, both fundamental markers most programs use to measure progress. Consequently, for the sixth year, GAO has not been able to assess MDA’s actual costs against a baseline.”

• Schedule: “Fielding decisions are being made with a reduced understanding of system effectiveness.”

Over the last eight years, no matter how many times MDA failed to do what it set out to do or didn’t progress to the next stage, the Bush administration dispensed little penalty. President Bush even exempted the agency from normal acquisition, testing, and reporting requirements in the hope that more flexibility would yield more results. That allowed the agency to avoid providing full cost estimates of its systems while deploying interceptor missiles that were not rigorously tested under realistic battlefield conditions.

In response to the GAO report, Mira Ricardel, vice president for business development at Boeing Missile Defense Systems, defended the ground-based midcourse (GMD) system, which already has been deployed in Alaska and California and may be built in eastern Europe, by claiming that it has met recent developmental milestones. She cited a December 5 test as proof that the system works.

However, the December test did not meet the operationally realistic threshold imposed by Congress. The target missile was supposed to include simple decoys, but they failed to deploy. This failure means that the system did not have the opportunity to prove whether or not it can discriminate warheads from simple decoys, which any nuclear-armed missiles that could reach the United States likely will have.

The Pentagon has yet to demonstrate that the U.S. ground-based missile defense system is capable of defending against a long-range ballistic missile in a real-world situation. Tests to date have been under highly scripted conditions.

In the 26 years since President Reagan made his “Star Wars” proposal, the United States has spent in the neighborhood of $150 billion on BMD development efforts. During that time, missile defense has morphed into a high-profile, politically symbolic program, rather than a militarily useful program judged on its merits. The BMD program not only offers no prospect of defending the United States from a real-world missile attack, it also undermines efforts to eliminate the real nuclear threats to the United States. But missile defense continues to march along as a public relations campaign and weapons industry welfare program promoted by a group of ideological believers who refuse to acknowledge the shortcomings of their enterprise.

– edited from, March 17-18, 2009
PeaceMeal, March/April 2009

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)