Missile Defense Funding Soars to New Heights

Wade Boese

President George W. Bush’s fiscal year 2007 budget re quest reaffirms his administration’s commitment to deploying an array of anti-missile systems, including to Europe , despite continuing uncertainty about whether they work. Submitted to Congress Feb. 6, the roughly $11.2 billion request for missile defenses is the largest ever by the Bush administration.

The proposed anti-missile funding is part of a total Pentagon bud get request of $439 billion, although this does not include military spending for Afghanistan and Iraq.

The largest portion of the missile defense funding request, $9.3 billion, is slated for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). Another $899 million would go for perfecting and procuring the Patriot, the Army’s short- and medium-range missile interceptor. Nearly $669 million is tapped for the Air Force’s Space-Based Infrared System- high, which is a satellite constellation that is supposed to spot missile launches worldwide. The troubled system is years behind schedule, and cost estimates have more than doubled. Most of the rest of the funds are spread out among the Air Force, Army, and Navy for integrating and operating various systems as they are fielded. If approved by Congress, this funding would cover activities between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30, 2007.

Pentagon officials count three systems as deployed or ready for emergency use: Patriot, which had mixed results during the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq invasion (see ACT, November 2003); the fledgling Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) against long-range ballistic missiles; and the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System for countering short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. These systems, as well as the nascent Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to intercept ballistic missiles near the end of their flights, are singled out for the largest slices of funding. The GMD is earmarked for almost $2.9 billion of the MDA funds, while Aegis and THAAD will get roughly $1 billion apiece.

GMD funding plans call for adding an unspecified number of long-range interceptors to the eight already deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska. MDA stated last December that it would no longer announce when new interceptors are deployed “in the interest of operational security.” (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

Still, in a recent budget document, MDA projects that in 2007 there will be up to 20 ground-based interceptors stationed in Alaska, along with the two already emplaced in California. It further predicts that 24 Aegis system interceptors will be deployed, as well as 534 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors.

By that time, MDA also is envisioning a fuller complement of radars to help interceptors get a better fix on enemy ballistic missiles. Currently, two upgraded early-warning radars are operating in Alaska and California. The additional radars will include a sea- based X-band radar, two mobile land-based radars (one in Japan and another in an undisclosed location), and upgraded early-warning radars based in the United Kingdom and Greenland.

As early as 2010, MDA is also aiming to deploy long-range missile interceptors in Europe. The recent budget proposal includes $56 million to begin exploring interceptor sites on the continent, agency spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today Feb. 16. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have all held discussions with the U.S. government about hosting missile defenses. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Although generally taking an expansive approach to its various systems, MDA did scale back plans but not funds for two programs: the Airborne Laser (ABL) and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI). These boost-phase systems are geared toward destroying ballistic missiles during the first few minutes of their flight.

The ABL, which involves arming a modified Boeing 747 with a powerful laser, was supposed to attempt to shoot down its first target in 2003, but that plan has slipped until 2008. Given this delay and the technical challenges still facing the system, MDA has demoted the program to a demonstration project and will postpone plans on producing additional ABL aircraft until after the scheduled 2008 experiment is completed.

Similarly, the deployment schedule for the KEI, a fast-accelerating land-based interceptor, has been pushed back another year to 2014. MDA is aiming to conduct the inaugural KEI flight test in 2008 but has no firm date for when such a system might be tested against a target.

Another longer-term MDA goal is to deploy up to five space-based interceptors for testing purposes by about 2012. MDA Director Lieutenant General Henry Obering told Arms Control Today in September 2005 that funding for this effort would begin in 2008 (see ACT, November 2005). And Lehner confirmed that the recent budget request contains no money toward that end.

Performance Doubts Persist

In its Feb. 3 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon listed the deployment of missile defenses as one of its accomplishments since 2001. It stated that this action provided a “nascent defensive capability.”

Yet, the Pentagon’s own testing office and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) both published less sanguine assessments in January.

Evaluating the overarching complex of anti-missile systems, the Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation found “there is insufficient evidence to support a confident assessment of Limited Defensive Operations.” However, the office noted, “[t]here is developmental test data that suggests the system may have some inherent defensive capability.”

In 2005, MDA conducted one THAAD flight test, two Aegis intercept tests, and two GMD interceptor flight tests. The Aegis tests were successful intercepts of targets, while the other three tests did not involve targets.

The GMD system last intercepted a target in October 2002, and at that time it employed a prototype interceptor that is not the same as the current model deployed in Alaska and California. The Pentagon testing office stated GMD testing was “limited by the immaturity of some components” and lacked “operational realism.”

CRS national defense specialist Steven Hildreth similarly found GMD testing data to be “insufficient” for drawing a conclusion about whether the system could destroy a long-range ballistic missile fired at the United States. In general, Hildreth described missile defense testing as producing “mixed and ambiguous results,” although he reported that testing for systems against short- and medium-range missiles “appears more promising.”