Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obering’s Missile Defense Exaggerations

Last week, Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. General Henry Obering gave a press briefing that involved numerous exaggerations about the capabilities of U.S. missile defense. The Center's John Isaacs responded with a keen analysis that identifies where Obering went wrong.

Gen. Obering: Our testing has shown not only can we hit a bullet with a bullet, we can hit a spot on the bullet with a bullet. The technology has caught up. (CNN)

Reality: A common public relations tactic employed by the MDA is to talk about “missile defense” as a monolithic whole so that it can ascribe achievements to the entire enterprise that should really only apply to specific programs. During Fleet Exercise Pacific Blitz on November 1, the Navy scored one hit and one miss with the Aegis missile defense system. Aegis is one of the most promising missile defense programs, but it cannot “hit a bullet with a bullet” every time. The U.S. missiles planned for installation in Poland involve an untested two-stage interceptor that is derived from the systems presently deployed in Alaska and California – systems that regularly fail even heavily-scripted flight tests. Gen. Obering cannot say whether or not European missile defense “technology has caught up” because the system hasn’t been tested at all.

Gen. Obering: We have come a hell of a long way since 2000. Our primary objective is going to be just, frankly, educating [people] on what we have accomplished, what we have been able to do…Not only are [current U.S. ground-based and sea-based systems] workable, they've been proven in combat. (AP, Washington Times)

Reality: First, there is no current U.S. missile defense system than can neutralize a ballistic missile threat that employs even simple decoys. Knowledgeable defense scientists believe missile defense will never be able to defeat countermeasures that any nation capable of fielding complex intercontinental ballistic missiles will be able to employ with ease. This refutes Gen. Obering’s assertion that missile defense is ready for combat.

Second, any accomplishments claimed by Gen. Obering have more to do with moving the goalposts than legitimate technological breakthroughs. Upon entering office, the Bush administration gave the MDA unprecedented latitude by exempting it from standard budgeting and reporting requirements. In a January 2008 report, the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation noted that a recent increase in operational realism in tests “has uncovered unanticipated deficiencies that will require additional development and testing.” A February 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report noted that tests completed to date “are developmental in nature and do not provide sufficient realism” to determine whether the system “is suitable and effective for battle.” Given these assessments, Gen. Obering’s confidence is off-base.
Find John's complete analysis, including rebuttals to Obering's assertions that the third missile defense site would undermine U.S. leadership in NATO and that Russia's concerns are invalid, here.


Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group said...

How Do We Define Success?

On December 5, a rocket launched from Vandenburg AFB in California intercepted a rocket launched from Kodiak, Alaska

1. It wasn't a resounding "success": According to Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, "...the target did not release planned countermeasures designed to try to confuse the interceptor missile. O'Reilly did not say what those countermeasures were, but they often include decoys or chaff to throw off shoot-down attempts." Apparently the technology to shoot down a real enemy missile, which would have countermeasures, is not yet working.

2.It wasn't a truly realistic test: The "test" was very tightly controlled - everybody knew when the interceptor would be launched and its probable path (they've launched targets from KLC before). Furthermore, the velocity of the target drone is about 40% less than that of an actual “enemy” missile. One wonders what would happen if they actually had to scramble an interceptor with no prior warning. Now that would be a TRUE test.

3. If the U.S. can't launch an ICBM that works the way it should, why do we think other countries can? Neither North Korea or Iran has ever successfully fired a missile that had any chance of landing anywhere near the U.S. Right now, if North Korea got really lucky, they might be able to hit the tip of the Aleutians. We are sure the folks out there appreciate the expenditure of ten billion dollars a year to help them sleep more soundly.

4. It's ALL about the money: Roughly $10 billion is spent per year on the program, which is run by defense contractor Boeing Co. but includes work by most of the nation's largest weapons makers. It is spread across three branches of the military and is composed of missiles, radar and satellites designed to intercept missiles during different stages of flight. While it might help the economy to keep all those defense contractors in business, the money could be spend more wisely on our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and to aid people being evicted from their homes.

5. Fortunately, President-elect Barack Obama expressed skepticism about the capabilities of the system during his campaign, leading to speculation he may reduce the program's scope. Russia has strongly objected to plans to install missile interceptors in Eastern Europe.

6. At least the true character of the KLC has finally been admitted. According to the AP: "WASHINGTON - The Defense Department said today it shot down a missile launched from a military base in Alaska..."

7. Finally, Kodiak, Alaska desperately needs a new high school and a new police station and jail. Our roads are a mess and infrastructure in Kodiak, Alaska and all across the United States is crumbling. Take a drive down the badly disintegrating Mission Road past the Salvation Army and ask yourself: Is Missile Defense worth it? Friday's test cost between $120 million to $150 million.

Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group said...

Kodiak Rejects Missile Defense - Overwhelmingly
Results from the Kodiak Daily Mirror online poll, December 5 through December 12:

The U.S. missile shield...

is unnecessary - 67.17%

is important for the nation's defense - 21.59%

will never work - (5.1%)

will ramp up a new arms race - (6.15%)

[percentages based on 667 responses]

Over 78% of the respondents voted anti missile defense. While online polls are generally considered "unscientific", it seems clear a community that is home to a facility used in missile defense tests rejects the notion that it is actually needed.

Coupled with another poll from 26 February 2005, it appears that the KLC is not only unneeded, but also unwanted. We have copied the post from that date below:

Poll Proves Local Opposition to Kodiak Launch Complex

Results of the Kodiak Daily Mirror online poll (17-24 February 2005) 839 responses
Published 24 Feb 2006 in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, page 4
"Why Should the Kodiak Launch Complex exist, or not exist?"

41% - It's waste of taxpayer money and useless in national defense
15.85% - It could potentially damage the environment.

56.85% - Anti-Kodiak Launch Complex

27.41% - It's crucial for national defense
15.71% - It's good for the local economy

43.12% - pro-KLC

The poll clearly indicates local attitudes toward Space Pork Kodiak. We suspect the numbers opposing the KLC would be even higher if there hadn't been the large number of out-of-state workers in town to support the latest MDA launch. The poll was running over 50% for "It's a waste..." until somebody alerted the KLC staff around Feb 22 causing a huge spike in the pro percentages. Despite this anomaly, the unmistakable community opposition is undeniable and prevailed in the overall results.