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Ready or not, here comes Star Wars

ASK THIS | March 31, 2004

At some point before the presidential election the U.S. is expected to field missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska. Is this protection from nuclear attack, or is it politics?

By Victoria Samson

Q. Why was 2004 picked to be the initial missile defense deployment year? Does this correlate to the threat? Is this when the technology is going to be ready to be fielded? Or are there political considerations?

Q. What realistic testing has missile defense undergone? If it hasn't undergone any, then why is it being deployed while still technologically immature? What is pressing this deployment forward so quickly? What is so different about missile defense that it isn't bound by the same rules for development as virtually every other Pentagon weapons program?

Q. How has the only missile defense system which has been tried in combat (the Patriot) performed? Have the Pentagon's claims about the Patriot's efficacy been borne out by independent examination, and do they correspond with the Patriot's flight test history? Have any official reports on the Patriot's 2003 performance in Iraq been released? How have the three friendly fire incidents that the Patriot was involved with been explained?

Q. How much is being spent on missile defense this year versus last year? What is planned on being spent next year and through the Future Years Defense Program? Is the Missile Defense Agency explaining fully why its budget is spiraling upward so quickly? Can missile defense budget requests be broken down into justifiable program elements? If not, why not?

Q. The site for this year's initial deployment of missile defense interceptors, Ft. Greely, Alaska, originally was portrayed as being as simply a test-bed facility. Money has been requested for a space-based test bed which would host a small constellation of interceptors. Is this going to serve as a jumping-off place for an initial deployment of space-based weapons? Has there been a public debate about possible results from weaponizing space?

At some point this fall, the United States is expected to declare that it has an initial missile defense capability. Pointing to the newly-installed interceptors which are to be fielded in Ft. Greely, Alaska by the end of this year, Bush administration officials will claim that Americans are now protected against ballistic missile attack.

They will be wrong. This defense is not simply a rudimentary one, as missile defense supporters have been saying: It is a non-existent one. What is to be deployed this year depends upon radars which are still being built, sensors which are years away from being ready, booster rockets which have not been used in an intercept attempt, and a kill vehicle which has undergone extremely limited flight testing. The missile defense components have never been tested as an entire system. In short, it is far too immature a system for the United States to bet its national security upon.

Still, the Bush administration continues to push forward with this year's deployment, which is scheduled to start shortly before the 2004 Presidential election. Furthermore, it has asked for $10.2 billion for missile defense programs in the upcoming budget, a 13 percent increase over last year's request. It is one of the largest Pentagon weapons programs, and yet it is free of most reporting requirements other systems must submit to.

Congress has largely been stymied by an uncooperative Pentagon which has retroactively classified documents containing unflattering information about the missile defense systems' low levels of development. This opacity on missile defense has rendered oversight to be challenging at the very least.

While the system being deployed this year is supposed to defend against an unlikely North Korean threat, another missile defense system has already been fielded and put to the test in a wartime situation. The most advanced version of the Patriot missile defense system was sent to Iraq in 2003 to defend troops against Iraqi ballistic missile attack.

While the Pentagon analysis of the Patriot's performance has not been released, officials are claiming that the Patriot had an engagement rate of 100 percent. This exceptional success, if true, goes against the Patriot's flight test history (it did so poorly in operational testing that the program had to be halted while officials revamped it and added more tests). What is certain is that the Patriot was involved in three friendly-fire incidents that killed one American and two British pilots.

Finally, for the third year in a row, the Bush administration's defense budget request includes funding for a space-based interceptor test bed. If this year's request for $10 million moves forward as worded, it would mean that the United States has crossed the line from militarizing space to weaponizing space, and will have done so minus any real public debate about possible consequences.

Weapons vs. deliver system
Posted by Dave Roberts - Dave Roberts Consulting
06/02/2004, 04:28 AM

I'd like to see a question asked about the ratio of money spent securing surplus nuclear weapons and nuclear material in programs like Nunn-Lugar vs. the missile defense initiatives? Nunn-Lugar is proven, practical, and immediately useful at making the United States more secure. Why aren't the funding levels for the two programs reversed?

Union of Concerned Scientists
Technological limits of the missile defense programs about to be deployed

Missile defense website at the Center for Defense Information
Breakdown of the missile defense flight tests held to date and many relevant government documents.

The Council for a Livable World
Information on the status of missile defense legislation.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nonproliferation Project
Details about the weapons of mass destruction capabilities around the world.

Missile Defense Agency

Slate Magazine
Our Hidden WMD Program: Why Bush is spending so much on nuclear weapons.

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