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Former Top Pentagon Official Warns Bush's Anti-Missile System Will Be More of a Scarecrow Than an Effective Defense

For Immediate Release: October 3, 2003

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball: (202) 463-8270 x107;
Philip Coyle, (323) 656-6750

(Washington, D.C.): One year before the Bush administration is scheduled to field the initial elements of what it claims will be a layered missile defense system to protect the United States against ballistic missile attacks, former top Pentagon official Philip Coyle writes that the system "is simply not up to the job." In an article published in the October issue of Arms Control Today, Coyle, who reviewed all Pentagon weapons testing during most of the Clinton administration, details what components the system will be lacking and what capabilities will not be proven by September 30, 2004, the date President George W. Bush set as a deadline for deploying the defense.

Coyle notes that Bush's deployment announcement caught most of the people working on missile defense by surprise given that six days before the president's December 17, 2002 declaration the system had failed its latest intercept test. That failure put the system's record for destroying its target in space at five hits and three misses. All eight tests were conducted under scripted and unrealistic conditions that eliminated the surprise and uncertainty of battle.

The Pentagon has not conducted another intercept test with the system since the December failure. Coyle offers two explanations for the absence of additional tests. He asserts that Bush's deployment decision changed the priorities of those working on the system from testing and proving it to simply building it. Furthermore, delays in the development of key system elements, namely a new three-stage booster that powers the interceptor into space, led the Pentagon to cancel and postpone tests for fears of a high-profile test failure using older technology not designed for use in a final system.

The system requires more testing, not less, according to Coyle. He listed several things the system has yet to prove that it can do:

"The ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system, as it is now called, has not shown that it can hit anything other than missiles whose trajectory and targets have been preprogrammed by missile defense contractors to eliminate the surprise or uncertainty of battle. Nor has it proven that it can hit a tumbling target, perform at night, or find ways to counter the decoys and countermeasures that a real enemy would use to throw a defense off track. Tests so far have all been conducted at unrealistically low speeds and altitudes, and it is not clear that the system will be able to track and identify the warhead it is supposed to destroy."

Coyle questions whether the system will be able to see the target effectively enough to hit it because the radars and satellite systems envisioned for tracking and discriminating the right target from among possible decoys are delayed and untested. "A combined network of radars and infrared sensors on land, at sea, and in space certainly will not be operational in 2004, if this decade," Coyle charges.

For the near term, Coyle predicts the system might only succeed in the most implausible scenario. "For the GMD system to work in 2004, it requires the [Missile Defense Agency] getting advance notice from the enemy," Coyle states.

Coyle's critique comes on the heels of a General Accounting Office (GAO) report released September 23 that assessed only two of 10 critical technologies for the defense as ready for integration into a system. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), who requested the GAO report, said upon its release, "We should not be funding an expensive rush to failure in order to meet an artificial deadline set by the President."

Coyle's October Arms Control Today article on the rudimentary nature of the missile defense system that the Bush administration plans to deploy is available at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_10/Coyle_10.asp

The October issue also has news articles on the GAO report, a recent American Physical Society study on boost-phase defenses, and current missile defense funding. Arms Control Today is published ten times per year by the Arms Control Association.

A status review of the GMD system as well as other Pentagon missile defense systems is available at the Arms Control Association's missile defense resource page at: http://www.armscontrol.org/subject/md/

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies to address security threats posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as conventional arms.

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