BMDO Renamed 'Missile Defense Agency'

Wade Boese

The Pentagon announced January 4 that the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), which oversees U.S. missile defense programs, will now be known as the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). More than a name change, the move also represents the increased emphasis the president places on building missile defenses, the Pentagon stated.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld outlined priorities for the new agency, which will be headed by Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, the former BMDO director. The agency is charged with defending the United States, as well as U.S. deployed troops, allies, and friends, from ballistic missile attacks. To accomplish this task, the agency is to develop defenses that intercept ballistic missiles along their entire flight path and to deploy such defenses “as soon as practicable,” including, if necessary, prototype and testing elements. These early capabilities will be augmented with new technologies when they become ready.

The agency’s priorities reflect Rumsfeld’s repeated assertion that it is important to deploy missile defenses as quickly as possible, even if they are not perfect. When asked December 13 whether it would be possible to build a “100 percent effective” defense, Rumsfeld replied, “I don’t know what would have changed about humankind that suddenly…we would be able to build something that was perfect.” He continued to say that if a standard that something had to be perfected before being used existed, “we wouldn’t be flying in airplanes today.”

To hasten development of various defenses and deployment of a layered system, MDA will develop a “single program” in which different types of defenses, such as sea- and ground-based defenses, will be integrated and not be built in isolation from one another, which has largely been the case to date. Rumsfeld also ordered in a January 2 memo that “decision-making cycle times are [to be] as rapid as possible.”

The Pentagon changes do not need congressional approval, but, in a December 19 conference report on the defense appropriations bill, Congress warned the Pentagon against “implementing a management structure and related decision-making process that limit adequate oversight of the program by the Pentagon’s operational testing, financial, and programmatic review groups.”

The January 4 announcement marks the second time since the Reagan administration chartered the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) in April 1984 that the Pentagon’s missile defense effort has been overhauled. In May 1993, the Clinton administration changed SDIO to BMDO and shifted missile defense research away from space-based technologies and strategic defenses to theater missile defenses.