One expert tells Congress that America is ready to defend itself against missile threats, while another is emphatic that the country’s missile defenses have not yet demonstrated effectiveness to defend Europe or the U.S. -- under realistic operational conditions.
The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which oversees the U.S. missile defense program, heard the conflicting testimony from witnesses this past week.
The U.S. is prepared to defend against North Korean missile threats, Charles E. McQueary, the director of Operational Test and Evaluation, told the congressional panel, according to an American Forces Press Service report.
Despite the need for more evaluation, McQueary testified, the U.S. is prepared to respond to a potential threat from the communist regime.
“We’ve consistently said that we need more modeling and simulation,” he added. “[B]ut if the North Koreans launched an attack against us this afternoon, we wouldn’t say we need more test data before we decided whether we were going to launch against and try to intercept that. We’d see how the system works and we’d find out.”
However, another witness, Philip E. Coyle III, senior adviser to the nonprofit Center for Defense Information, a division of the World Security Institute, denigrated this ad hoc brand of missile defense readiness.
“Currently,” said Coyle, “U.S. missile defenses have not demonstrated effectiveness to defend Europe or the U.S. under realistic operational conditions. U.S. missile defenses lack the ability to deal with decoys and countermeasures, lack demonstrated effectiveness under realistic operational conditions, and lack the ability to handle attacks involving multiple missiles.”
With respect to the latter, Coyle noted: “Referring to the most basic capability called ‘Block 1,’ the director, Operational Testing and Evaluation was candid in a January 2009 report: “‘Block 1 has not demonstrated interceptor performance in a salvo defense (multiple interceptors against multiple targets) or in a multiple simultaneous engagement (multiple interceptors against multiple targets) in a flight test.’”
Coyle, a former assistant secretary of defense and director of Operational Test and Evaluation, noted before the committee that in his opinion, “The public statements made by Pentagon officials and contractors have often been at variance with the facts at hand. It is difficult to separate programmatic spin from genuine progress. In particular, the missile defense program has made claims that have not been demonstrated through realistic testing.”
For missile defense, the most challenging technical obstacles are dealing with enemy attacks of more than one or two missiles, and with decoys and countermeasures that can defeat missile defense, Coyle said. “So far the testing programs have been kicking that can down the road.”
Coyle further noted that if an enemy is determined to attack America, they will do whatever they can to overwhelm and confound U.S. missile defenses.
This means, he instructed, that the enemy may launch many missiles, not just one or two, may make their warheads stealthy and hard to detect and track, and may use decoys and other types of countermeasures to fool or confuse the defenses.
Coyle went on to stress that the current anti-missile programs have no operational criteria for success. “How good is the system supposed to be?” he asked rhetorically. “Is 10 percent effectiveness good enough? What about 1 percent? Can the system handle realistic threats as documented in intelligence community threat assessments? How many interceptors should be required to defeat one target?”
The expert argued that without such operational criteria for measurement of success, it is very difficult to design an adequate testing program, and for Congress to evaluate the results. “And, as has often been noted by the GAO [Government Accountability Office], it also makes it difficult for the GAO or for my former office in the Pentagon to evaluate these programs for the Congress,” he added.
This also explains, said the expert, why the war-fighter, e.g. STRATCOM, has been reluctant to say that the U.S. has an operational capability or whether it would be effective.
United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) is charged, among other things, with missions of space operations, integrated missile defense, strategic deterrence, and combating weapons of mass destruction.
Missile defense is the most difficult developmental program the Pentagon has ever attempted -- beyond any Army tank, Navy ship, high-performance jet fighter or helicopter. And those developmental programs often take 20 years or more, Coyle testified.
Missile defense has been under development in the U.S. for 60 years. A conservative estimate is that the U.S. has spent more than $120 billion on missile defense, he emphasized.
From looking at figures from the Congressional Budget Office, Coyle estimated that since President Ronald Reagan’s famous “Star Wars” speech in 1983, about $150 billion has been spent. And over the next five years, the Pentagon has requested another $62.5 billion for missile defense -- with no end in sight.
If Congress supports this spending on missile defense, said Coyle, by the end of 2013 over $110 billion will have been spent just since 2003 -- not counting the missile defense spending in the previous 20, 40, or 60 years.
“To continue this level of spending without first knowing from realistic test results whether the overall BMDS [Ballistic Missile Defense System] can fly would be a costly mistake,” he warned.
Recently the White House said this about National Missile Defense: “The Obama-Biden administration will support missile defense, but ensure that it is developed in a way that is pragmatic and cost-effective; and, most importantly, does not divert resources from other national security priorities until we are positive the technology will protect the American public.”
For his part, Coyle gives a low, low mark for pragmatism and cost-effectiveness in the development of missile defense.
“The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is pursuing a path of ‘spiral development,’ sometimes called, ‘Capability-Based Acquisition,’ he charged, “concepts that been taken to an unworkable extreme by the MDA.
“The extreme example is the overall Ballistic Missile Defense System about which the Missile Defense Agency has conceded, ‘There are currently no final or fixed architectures and no set of operational requirements for the proposed BMDS.’
“Under this approach,” concluded Coyle, “spiral development or other ‘dynamic acquisition’ concepts become like building a house while the floor plan is constantly changing. It makes for a very expensive house, and if your family ever gets to move in, they find they don’t like how their topsy-turvy house turned out.”
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