Friday, May 30, 2008

Missile Defense Monitor

The following is a summary of recent non-National Defense Authorization Act-related missile defense news and developments.

1) According to a new study conducted by the Center for Business & Economic Research (CBER) at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, the economic impacts of the Boeing Company’s work on Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) in Alabama in 2007 include:

  • Nearly 5,600 direct and indirect jobs
  • $80 million payroll
  • $198 million in Alabama household earnings
  • 38 jobs created in the state for every 10 Boeing GMD jobs
  • The highly skilled, high-income GMD program work force earned an average of 1.9 times the average 2006 wage for an Alabama worker.
Such statistics are important in understanding the relatively strong bipartisan support commanded by missile defense. Let us consider why.

While Congress has been willing to cut funds for and place restrictions on certain missile defense programs, it has ultimately failed to make substantial inroads in the overall missile defense budget. For example, of the $57.9 billion the president has requested for the missile defense agency (MDA) since ‘01, Congress has appropriated $57.8 billion.

The Bush administration’s theological devotion to missile defense, a Republican dominated Congress over the past seven years, and the fact that the Joint Chiefs (who have traditionally been hostile to large missile defense budgets) have not opposed increased funding for missile defense because the overall defense budget has risen along with it explains a great deal about why MDA’s budget has become so grossly inflated.

However, there is another, oft-overlooked, rationale at work here.

Since 2006, Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) has introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to cut the overall missile defense budget. Not surprisingly, Republicans have voted overwhelmingly against the amendment. Yet how is one to explain Democratic votes on the amendment? In 2006, 117 Democrats voted in favor, while 80 voted against. In 2007 the count was 124 in favor, 105 against. In 2008, it was 117 in favor, 111 against.

The University of Alabama study provides a window as to why the votes have unfolded as they have. Missile defense assets have been farmed-out to locations all across the country. The economic benefits that have accrued to local economies from this process have created a powerful political constituency that is invested in the perpetuation of the status quo. This constituency consists of both Democrats and Republicans, and it is an obstacle to those of us who think that missile defense programs should only be funded if they have proven themselves to be on the road to operationally-demonstrated effectiveness. Just because a program is in the parochial interests of a district or state, does not mean that U.S. taxpayers should pay for it.

2) In other news, the Pentagon recently announced that a $100 million GMD test scheduled for July has been delayed until at least October. The test was originally scheduled for April, was pushed back until July, and has now been delayed again. I don’t have much to say about this other than that it is simply further evidence of GMD's technological dubiousness.

3) Finally, the first Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile unit has been activated at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. THAAD is a ground-based missile defense system designed to destroy short- and medium- range ballistic missiles during the late-midcourse and terminal phases of flight.

One of the virtues of THAAD is that it is focused on the near-term threat posed by medium- and short-range ballistic missiles. This is why the House Armed Services Committee authorized $939.9 million for THAAD in FY 2009, an increase of $75 million over the Bush administration’s original request.

However, a key shortcoming of THAAD, is that on occasions where it is deployed to destroy targets outside the Earth’s atmosphere, it will be vulnerable to decoys and countermeasures.

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