Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Star Wars Turns 25 Years Old, but Effective and Capable Missile Defense Still Elusive

The Center's senior military fellow Gen. Robert Gard and director John Isaacs released today a phenomenal report on America's missile defense program.

The analysis covers Congressional, scientific, governmental, and military support for and opposition to a national missile defense program from Reagan's push in 1983 to the present administration.

The authors conclude that no elements of the ground-based system should be deployed until they are proven effective at accomplishing their mission, and capable of protecting the United States.

Highlights included here, and links found below:

[The National Missile Defense Act of 1999] endorsed missile defense deployment but with important qualifiers. It directs the Department of Defense "to deploy as soon as is technically possible an effective national missile defense system that is capable of defending the territory of the United States against a limited ballistic missile defense attack" [emphasis added].


The 1995 National Intelligence Estimate pointed out that any country that can successfully flight test an ICBM, a complex undertaking, will be able to develop numerous countermeasures to penetrate a missile defense system.


Yet procurement and deployment of ground-based mid-course interceptors continues. In 2007, 10 interceptors were deployed, bringing the total to 21 at Fort Greely, Alaska, and three at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The intent is to reach 54 interceptors – 44 in the United States and 10 in Poland – by 2013.


System intercept tests have not employed realistic decoys, or any decoys at all, in the two most recent tests. Discrimination remains the Achilles' heel of the ground-based mid-course system.


It is evident that the ground-based mid-course system does not meet the conditions for deployment specified in the National Missile Defense Act of 1999. It has not demonstrated that it is effective in accomplishing its mission or that it is capable of defending the territory of the United States. Phillip Coyle, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation during the Clinton administration, has called ground-based mid-course "a scarecrow, not a defense," and Richard Garwin has said the system is "totally useless."

According to the Congressional Research Service, more than $120 billion has been invested in missile defense since President Reagan's speech 25 years ago, much of it on the system to protect the United States. Given the fact that delivery of a nuclear weapon against the United States is far more likely by means other than an ICBM, which leaves a return address, the opportunity costs are very high in military terms alone, not to mention other higher priority national security and domestic programs. The further deployment of elements of the ground-based mid-course system should be suspended until research and development can demonstrate that the problem of discrimination can be solved successfully.

Click on each of the following for the full text, PDF, and press release.

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