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Strategic Missile Defense

NEWS ANALYSIS: Missile Defense Five Years After the ABM Treaty

Wade Boese

Five years after President George W. Bush orchestrated the June 13, 2002, U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to build an “effective” missile defense, the system remains unproven or insufficient in the eyes of many.

Yet, Bush administration officials say that their fledgling strategic missile defense system proved its worth when North Korea fired several ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan last July. Right before the tests, the Bush administration activated the system as a precaution.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates penned an April 26 Daily Telegraph piece claiming that the defense had helped “promote stability” by allowing U.S. leaders “to consider a wider, more flexible range of responses to a potential attack.” John Rood, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, declared in a Feb. 27 speech that the system’s activation had “heartened” him.

North Korea’s missile launch preparations were no secret last June and had been reported generally as being for testing purposes. Still, Rick Lehner, a spokesperson for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told Arms Control Today May 29 that North Korea’s intentions were not known and, therefore, the “system was brought to alert status in case it was needed to defend the country.” As it turned out, the system was unneeded because North Korea was conducting flight tests, and the Taepo Dong-2, the missile of greatest U.S. concern, flopped approximately 40 seconds into its inaugural flight.

The MDA asserts the defense would have stopped the Taepo Dong-2 had the test been a real attack. Lieutenant General Henry Obering, the head of the MDA, told the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee April 11, “I am confident [the system] would have worked.”

Not everyone has such confidence. Skeptics and critics point to what they say is skimpy and rudimentary testing of the system, which has components stretching from radars in Japan and the United Kingdom to 18 interceptors deployed in Alaska and California. On the other hand, some missile defense supporters criticize the administration for not being ambitious enough after pulling out of the ABM Treaty, which barred Moscow and Washington from developing nationwide strategic ballistic missile defenses.

Although Russia initially had a muted reaction to the U.S. treaty withdrawal, Russian leaders now more strongly assert that U.S. missile defenses, particularly a plan to base interceptors in Poland, are provocative. They imply that if Washington continues to proceed, it could trigger another arms race, which is what Bush and other senior administration officials said would not result from a U.S. ABM Treaty exit.

No Consensus on Capability

Despite its proclaimed confidence in the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), which was the system activated last summer, the administration has had trouble convincing others to share the same view, largely because it has performed few visible tests over the past several years. Indeed, since Bush’s December 2002 decision to deploy the GMD system, only one successful intercept test has been conducted.

The MDA hoped to double this tally with a May 25 test, but the experiment was scrubbed when the target missile failed to fly properly. Obering said the agency would try again this summer.

The sole, recent success came Sept. 1, 2006, when a GMD interceptor fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, obliterated a mock warhead launched south from Kodiak Island, Alaska. (See ACT, October 2006.) The interceptor is comprised of powerful boosters that lift into space an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) that detaches from the boosters and, using radar updates and onboard sensors, hones in on and collides with a target at a combined closing speed of 35,000 kilometers per hour.

MDA officials heralded the test as proof that the system works. Speaking Jan. 29, Brigadier General Patrick O’Reilly, MDA deputy director, contended there is “very little more we can do to make [tests] more operationally realistic.”

The test differed significantly from its 10 predecessors, five of which ended in intercepts. The September experiment involved an interceptor model that was the same as those currently deployed and also involved operational crews and radars, as well as a target trajectory more closely resembling one that a North Korean missile might travel. Previously, targets were shot away from California west over the Pacific Ocean toward the Marshall Islands, from where the test interceptors were fired.

Some critics dispute the claim that the recent test was realistic. In a May 23 Arms Control Today interview, Philip Coyle, former director of the Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation, said the latest test was “the simplest” to date and “less challenging than tests that I oversaw,” highlighting the absence of decoys in the recent test. Previous tests included one to three decoys, although they did not closely resemble the target.

Coyle, who is currently a senior adviser at the nonprofit Center for Defense Information, contends that the Achilles’ heel of the system is countermeasures, including decoys, because the system cannot discriminate between real targets and fake ones. He contends that adversaries capable of launching a long-range ballistic missile would employ decoys or other countermeasures to penetrate the system.

That assertion is based on U.S. intelligence. Robert D. Walpole, a national intelligence officer, informed lawmakers Feb. 9, 2000, that North Korea and Iran “could develop countermeasures based on [readily available] technologies by the time they flight-test their missiles.” Neither Iran nor North Korea has successfully flight-tested a missile with a range greater than approximately 2,000 kilometers.

Obering defends the MDA testing strategy. At the April 11 hearing, he argued, “We think that there are many situations where we will not be faced with complex countermeasures.” At an April 25 Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing, the general stated, “Just because you do not have countermeasures does not mean that [tests are] not realistic.”

The MDA has deployed a sea-based X-band radar, which would have been prohibited by the ABM Treaty, that the agency claims will help with target discrimination. The agency also is working to miniaturize EKVs so that a single interceptor can carry several at a time to engage separate objects in a target cluster. Flight testing of this Multiple Kill Vehicle program is set to start in 2012.

The current head of the Pentagon’s testing office, Charles McQueary, testified April 11 that the current system has “demonstrated a capability to intercept a simple foreign threat.” Meanwhile, his office’s annual report, released earlier this year, stated that a lack of flight-test data “limits confidence in assessments” of the defense. It recommended that future program decisions should “stress reliable and repeatable performance in integrated system testing.”

Similarly, a March report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts investigations for Congress, concluded the system “has not completed sufficient flight testing to provide a high level of confidence that [U.S. missile defenses] can reliably intercept ICBMs.” It applauded the MDA for generally reducing missile defense test failures and improving quality control procedures but reported that previous shortcomings may have permitted “less reliable or inappropriate parts” to be incorporated in the deployed interceptors, raising questions about their “reliability.” According to the GAO, the MDA plans to spend $65.5 million to retrofit the interceptors beginning in fiscal year 2009.

Stable of Programs Remains Similar

When running for president, Bush derided the Clinton administration’s ground-based system as too modest. (The ABM Treaty permitted Moscow and Washington each to field up to 100 strategic ground-based interceptors at one site.) He suggested that if the United States truly wanted to shield itself against ballistic missiles, it had to break free from ABM Treaty rules against air-, sea-, space-, and mobile land-based systems as well as foreign deployments. This position reflected decades-long complaints of missile defense advocates that the only thing blocking effective defenses was treaty limits making certain technologies and basing modes off-limits.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal a day after the U.S. treaty withdrawal took effect, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz hailed the possibilities that the MDA could now exploit. “We can now move forward with the robust development and testing program that the Department of Defense has designed to take advantage of new technologies and basing modes,” he stated.

Yet, five years after the administration shed the treaty constraints and spent some $41 billion on the MDA, the U.S. inventory of systems has changed little (see table 1). Air-, sea-, space-, and mobile land-based systems to counter strategic long-range missiles or ICBMs have not materialized.

The MDA has programs that fit these basing modes, but they are systems geared toward stopping shorter-range missiles and were under development prior to the treaty withdrawal. To be sure, the MDA contends some of the programs have an inherent capability against longer-range missiles or that they can be upgraded for the mission, but such claims remain unproven.

The Airborne Laser (ABL) is a prime example. Initiated under the Clinton administration, the ABL program called for arming a Boeing 747 with a powerful laser to destroy shorter-range ballistic missiles shortly after their launch. Following the U.S. treaty withdrawal, program officials announced the system also could shoot down longer-range missiles. Prolonged development delays, however, have postponed the first ABL intercept attempt from 2003 to at least 2009. Not yet armed with its main laser, the aircraft recently tracked a target, but Obering noted in the April 25 hearing that the program is not “out of the woods.”

Some ABM Treaty antagonists also saw great promise in fielding ship-based strategic interceptors, pointing to the then-Navy Theater Wide program as a possible model or starting point. Now known as Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, the program has recorded eight intercepts in 10 tests involving shorter-range missiles, and MDA officials are seeking to expand its capabilities. As with the ABL program, however, the schedule has slipped. Whereas a first attempt to hit a long-range target had been predicted for as early as 2007, now it is set for 2014.

The MDA’s only mobile land-based system nearing deployment is the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which is supposed to collide with missiles during their last minute or so of flight. Intercept testing of the system resumed last July after completion of an interceptor redesign that started in 1999. In the three intercept tests since then, THAAD has not missed. The system is designed to destroy missiles below the strategic threshold.

A mobile land-based strategic system, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), is in the works, but it has suffered frequent budget cuts from lawmakers who question the program’s utility. As a result, the MDA has pushed back possible deployment of the system, which has yet to be flight-tested, from 2010 to at least 2014.

Space-based interceptors remain just a gleam in Obering’s eyes. “Space offers a lot of flexibility, and it offers a lot of attraction,” he testified April 25. But his agency has requested relatively modest sums to explore the option. Congress, particularly Democratic members, have signaled strong reservations about basing interceptors in orbit. In its defense authorization bill passed May 17, the House of Representatives cut nearly $800 million, including all $10 million for the space project, from the MDA’s fiscal year 2008 $8.8 billion budget request. The Senate has yet to pass its version of this bill, which will have to be reconciled with the House measure.

For some missile defense doubters and opponents, the administration’s failure to bring any new systems to fruition might be bittersweet vindication of their arguments that it was premature on technical grounds to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

A number of missile defense supporters, however, knock the administration for not being aggressive enough. Daniel Goure, vice president of the nonprofit Lexington Institute, contended in an April 23 paper that the administration “went on to squander the opportunity” presented by scrapping the ABM Treaty. He suggests the KEI program be ramped up and put on ships.

Other missile defense proponents such as Ambassador Henry Cooper, who headed one of the MDA’s predecessors, issued a 2006 report criticizing the administration for sticking with the ground-based system. They recommended limiting work on that system and devoting more time and effort to sea- and space-based interceptors. The report noted that the current approach ignores defending against Chinese and Russian missiles.

Russian Reactions

A major point of contention when the Bush administration was maneuvering to withdraw from the ABM Treaty was how other states, particularly Russia and China, would respond. The possibility that either country might build up its arsenal in reaction to a U.S. treaty withdrawal and construction of a nationwide defense induced anxiety within Washington and worldwide.

The Bush administration dismissed such concerns as exaggerated. It argued that future U.S. defenses would not be aimed at China or Russia and that the withdrawal would help usher in a new era of better relations between the United States and Russia by removing an irritant and a vestige of Cold War competition. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer noted Dec. 12, 2001, that the president often remarked that withdrawing from the treaty would “lead to a strengthening of U.S.-Russian relations.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin characterized the withdrawal at the time as “mistaken,” and the Kremlin has grumbled ever since. But a U.S. proposal to nullify a potential Iranian missile threat by stationing 10-ground-based U.S. interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic now has Russia growling. (See ACT, April 2007. )

Putin set the tone in a Feb. 10 speech, saying the U.S. plans “cannot help but disturb us.” He asked, “Who needs the next step of what would be, in this case, an inevitable arms race?”

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also suggested May 15 that an arms competition was certain. “In questions of military-strategic stability, there are its own immutable laws: actions, counteractions, defensive, offensive systems,” he explained, adding that “these laws operate regardless of how somebody would like to see this or that situation.”

Although 10 interceptors would clearly pose no threat to Russia’s roughly 530 ICBMs, Russian officials indicate their concern is that the deployment is just the tip of the iceberg. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass May 14 published a Russian Foreign Ministry statement that “one cannot ignore the fact that U.S. offensive weapons, combined with the missile defense being created, can turn into a strategic complex capable of delivering an incapacitating blow.”

How seriously Russia fears such a scenario and how it would really respond is difficult to gauge. Moscow is seeking a new arms reduction agreement with Washington (see ACT, May 2007 ), but it also regularly speaks of retaining older weapon systems with multiple warheads and tripling the warhead capacity of its new class of Topol-M ICBMs.

Bush administration officials say Russia is overreacting and that a difference exists between the Kremlin’s private and public comments. They speculate that Russian officials might be trying to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe or engaging in electoral politics at home. Regardless, Rice said May 15 in Moscow that the United States would not give Russia “a veto on American security interests.”

U.S. officials have made a pitch to soften Russia’s rhetoric by proposing cooperation on missile defenses. Moscow so far has shunned the offers, perhaps recalling that nothing much came of Bush’s June 13, 2002, pledge to Russia to “look for ways to cooperate on missile defenses, including expanding military exercises, sharing early warning data, and exploring potential joint research and development of missile defense technologies.”

Estimated to have an arsenal of approximately 20 ICBMs capable of reaching the continental United States, China has stayed relatively silent about U.S. missile defense developments, even though it would appear to have greater reason than Russia to be concerned. Beijing has had a secretive, yet slow strategic modernization program underway for years, and there is little evidence that its pace or scope has changed. Chinese unease with U.S. plans, however, is viewed as stoking Beijing’s push for negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament.

Washington has gained some greater international acceptance of missile defenses. In addition to winning consent from the United Kingdom and Denmark to upgrade and integrate U.S. radars on their territories into the U.S. GMD system, the Bush administration also deployed a mobile radar to Japan and is cooperating with Tokyo on improving the ship-based Aegis defense. The ABM Treaty barred any of these actions. Other countries with ongoing projects with the United States include Australia, Germany, Israel, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Still, some governments, including a few U.S. missile defense partners, are uneasy with the seemingly deteriorating U.S.-Russian relationship, of which missile defense appears partially responsible. In a March 18 article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned that, in protecting against a possible Iranian threat, “the price of security must not be new suspicion or, worse still, fresh insecurity.” He also wrote, “[W]e cannot allow a missile defense system to be either a reason or a pretext for a new arms race.”

Five years after President George W. Bush orchestrated the June 13, 2002, U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to build an “effective” missile defense, the system remains unproven or insufficient in the eyes of many. (Continue)

Europeans Split Over U.S. Missile Defense Plans

Oliver Meier

European countries are divided over a recent U.S. offer to begin negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic on basing components of a U.S. anti-missile system on their territories. Washington has proposed building a radar for the system in the Brdy district in the Czech Republic and a site for 10 missile interceptors near Koszalin , Poland , to counter a potential threat from longer-range Iranian missiles aimed at the U.S. East Coast and parts of Europe . The proposal has stirred strong opposition from Russia . (See ACT, March 2007. )

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek stated during a visit to Poland that “both countries will probably answer in the affirmative,” the British newspaper The Independent reported Feb. 20. Subsequently, Prague officially announced that it would begin talks. Some European governments and domestic critics, however, have attacked Warsaw and Prague for this initial positive reaction. NATO appears likely to discuss the issue at upcoming ministerial meetings.

Different Zones of Security

Some European leaders are concerned that the U.S. system would not be able to protect some EU and NATO members against such a threat because they are too close to Iran . According to a March 11 Financial Times report, a recent NATO study found that some southeastern European states would not be covered by the system, which attempts to intercept missiles as they travel through space. Stefan Fuele, Czech ambassador to NATO, told Agence France -Press March 14 that Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Turkey could not be protected because of the short distance between Southeast Europe and Iran. Lt. General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, during a March 15 briefing in Berlin confirmed that midcourse interceptors based in Poland would not be able to destroy missiles launched from Iran and aimed at parts of Southeast Europe . Obering stated that this region would have to be protected by separate systems that destroy incoming warheads in the terminal phases of their flight.

Many European governments are not willing to accept such different zones of security. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in a March 12 monthly video briefing, published on NATO's website, stated that although NATO will not “interfere” in bilateral discussions between the United States and the Czech Republic and Poland, he had the intention “to ensure that there are no ‘A-grade' and ‘B-grade' allies when it comes to security.”

The Role of NATO and the EU

Some European leaders also are concerned about NATO and the European Union being sidelined. Germany is the most forceful advocate for making the U.S. proposal a topic within NATO. Chancellor Angela Merkel in a March 13 interview with German TV station ZDF said that “ Germany prefers a solution within NATO and an open dialogue with Russia ” about U.S. missile defense plans. Alluding to a mandate given at the 2002 Prague NATO summit to examine options for addressing the increasing missile threat to alliance territory “consistent with the indivisibility of allied security,” Merkel argued that NATO missile defense should be “seen as a task for the alliance collectively.”

Currently, NATO is coordinating national efforts related only to tactical ballistic missile defense programs. In September 2006, NATO launched the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense Program to protect troops in the field against short- and medium-range missiles. The program aims to create the infrastructure and command and control capabilities to permit various U.S. and European systems to work together. It is scheduled to have an initial operational capability by 2010 and to be fully operational by 2016. (See ACT , June 2005. )

A secret, 10,000-page feasibility study prepared for NATO's November 2006 summit in Riga, Latvia outlined options intended to protect NATO member states' territory and population centers against longer-range strategic missile threats. But the alliance's 26 member states could not agree to implement any of the options contained in the study. Instead, they mandated a follow-on study to assess the political and military implications of missile defense for the alliance.

One crucial question is whether the U.S. anti-ballistic missile defenses could be integrated into NATO, as German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung suggested March 2. Ted Whiteside, head of NATO's Weapons of Mass Destruction Center, told ISN Security Watch March 21 that such integration of command and control structures is conceivable and that NATO is already using an integrated command system for theater missile defense (TMD), applying predefined rules of engagement. “TMD should be the model for NATO's acquisition of a missile defense capability over the next few years,” Whiteside argued.

Washington is willing to brief allies and Russia on its plans but refuses to give NATO a say on its intentions for expanding ballistic missile defense to Europe . The United States sees its ballistic missile defense as a national program and wants to establish bases in Poland and the Czech Republic on the basis of bilateral agreements. Obering, in the March 15 briefing, argued that the European components of the missile defense system could complement current NATO anti-missile efforts. He said that U.S. missile defense components could become a national contribution toward an alliance-wide defense system against long-range missile threats if and when NATO decides to establish such a system. Obering was skeptical whether NATO members would be willing to pay the costs for such a system. Costs for the construction of the two bases, which would be assumed by Washington , are estimated to be at least at $3.5 billion. The NATO study is said to have estimated costs for a NATO-wide defense system, depending on coverage and technology, at $10 billion to $20 billion.

Nevertheless, it seems almost certain that NATO cannot avoid the issue. De Hoop Scheffer in his video message promised that U.S. missile defense plans would be discussed at NATO ministerial meetings later in the year, as well as at the April 26-27 informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo . Norwegian Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm Erichsen told the newspaper Aftenposten on Feb. 22 that Norway 's basic position in the upcoming consultations would be “to oppose the type of missile defense the United States is planning.” Norway is “very skeptical,” Erichsen said, because it fears new arms races.

Some, like Luxembourg 's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, would prefer to see the issue discussed within the EU, with the goal of developing a unified European position. “We must not again be caught between America and Russia ,” Asselborn warned March 12 in the German magazine Der Spiegel .

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a March 18 commentary to the German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung (FASZ) stated that “neither NATO nor the EU must be divided over a necessary open debate.” Steinmeier alluded to European divisions over the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq and argued, “There is no ‘old' and ‘new' Europe , and no one should try to sow such seeds of discord for short-term gains.”

So far, there appears to be little willingness in Brussels to engage in discussions on a missile defense shield. “We are not as Europeans concerned to establish a mechanism of that type,” Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, told the Associated Press March 2. Even though the EU in December 2003 adopted a joint strategy that aimed for greater coherence among member states on security issues, Solana said that it “is for every country to decide” whether to cooperate with the United States on missile defense.

Fears of a New Arms Race

Behind the debate lie differences in how to react to Russia 's statement that the U.S. missile defense plans could lead Moscow to target Poland and the Czech Republic and prompt Russia 's withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (See ACT, March 2007. )

Russia 's strong statements appear to have backfired and strengthened the resolve of central European leaders who favor deployment of the U.S. system. Some in western Europe, however, fear a new arms race between the United States and Russia . French President Jacques Chirac warned during a March 9 press conference that “we must be very careful, as regards this project, not to encourage the creation of new dividing lines in Europe or the return to an obsolete order. To my mind, this project raises many questions to which thought will have to be given before responding.”

A French diplomat told Arms Control Today March 15, however, that not everyone in the French government was prepared to follow Chirac's line. The diplomat said that although some in Paris believe that the U.S. plans could divide Europe, others took a more fatalistic view, arguing that the United States would go ahead with the program anyway and that U.S. interceptors might protect France against ballistic missile threats.

The German government has taken a different tack. Steinmeier, in the FASZ op-ed, warned that “we cannot allow a missile defense system to be either a reason or a pretext for a new arms race.”


The United States was hoping to conclude bilateral agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic this year in order to begin construction in 2008 and to have operational bases as early as 2011.

A Polish diplomat told Arms Control Today March 16 that he is still optimistic that the United States would be able to convince European allies of the need for a missile defense system. The diplomat argued that, had Europeans not ignored U.S. plans for developing a missile shield for such a long time, it might have been possible to find a solution to protect all of Europe. “Now, this is an American project, and one cannot expect it to cover all of Europe,” he stated.

The Polish government, however, is not unified in its support for missile defense. In the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung Feb. 17, Vice Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper of the populist party Samoobrona, voiced sympathy for Russia 's concern and called for a referendum on the government's plans. The Polish diplomat confirmed to Arms Control Today that such a referendum was a possibility and stated that in any case the Polish parliament would have to vote on the plan. Fifty-five percent of Poles oppose the plan, according to a survey for the Warsaw-based Centre for Public Research.

The Polish government may already be trying to take the heat out of the debate. Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti Feb. 26 that “the negotiating process could last several years because of various technical, legislative, and other issues.” Fotyga remained opposed, however, to making the missile defense plans a European issue. “All I can say with certainty is that, during the discussions, we will prioritize Poland 's security and then the security of Europe and the world,” she said.

Czech Vice Prime Minister and Europe Minister Alexandr Vondra in a March 3 interview with the German paper Die Tageszeitung said that his government was open to a limited debate in NATO on missile defense plans but cautioned that Prague “will not ask Russia for permission” to build the radar site.

Ondrej Liska, chairman of the European Affairs Committee in the Czech parliament, told Arms Control Today March 21 that his Green Party would make its “support for the construction of a radar site on Czech territory conditional on consensus in the EU Council and the NATO Council on U.S. missile defense plans.” The Green Party is the junior partner in Prague 's current coalition government, which also includes Conservatives and Christian Democrats.

Liska, deputy head of the Green Party, said that NATO and the EU first have to agree on how real the threat is from ballistic missiles, whether defenses are capable of defending against such a possible threat, whether such a system could fuel new arms races, and whether missile defenses could have a negative impact on other, cooperative instruments to tackle proliferation. Opposition Social Democrats also said they would condition their support on an agreement within NATO on the missile defense plans.

According to recent polls, a majority of Czech citizens is opposed to building a U.S. missile radar in the country. Of the 72 citizens of the village of Trokavec , where the X-band radar facility is supposed to be built, 71 voted against the government's plan.

Should Poland or the Czech Republic decide to drop out of the project, the United States could consolidate both sites in one of the two countries. Bases could also be built in other countries. Ukraine , for example, has recently indicated some interest in participating in such a system. Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy reported March 19 that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was considering whether it should “join the countries that had missile defense plans.” The broadcast, which was translated by the BBC, also quoted Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as saying that Kyiv was ready for talks and could bring space monitoring capabilities, shared jointly with Russia , into such a system. There has also been talk of basing radars for the missile defense system in the Caucasus, a suggestion that has triggered strong reactions from Moscow .

On Feb. 23, a spokesperson for the British government confirmed reports that London was involved in talks with Washington about the potential deployment of interceptors in the United Kingdom and that the government welcomes “plans to place further missile defense assets in Europe .” Obering confirmed that missile defense bases on British territory would improve the U.S. ability to intercept Russian ICBMs.

“If [the Russians] are concerned about us targeting their intercontinental ballistic missiles, I think that would be problematic from the [perspective of the United Kingdom] because I believe we probably could catch them from a UK launch site,” he told the Financial Times March 7. The United Kingdom already hosts a radar at Fylingdales, which feeds information to the U.S. missile defense system.

U.S., Europe Anti-Missile Plans Upset Russia

Wade Boese

A U.S. bid to base anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic is provoking strong reactions from Russia, including hints that it might abrogate a two-decade-old treaty restricting Russian missile holdings.

Moscow has consistently opposed Washington’s proposal to base long-range ballistic missile interceptors in Europe since it first became public in 2004. (See ACT, July/August 2004. ) But January revelations that Washington has approached Prague and Warsaw to start formal negotiations over deployment options have reinvigorated the Kremlin’s denunciations.

Lieutenant General Henry Obering, head of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told reporters Jan. 25 that the proposed stationing of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a high-powered radar in the Czech Republic were not aimed at Russia, but primarily Iran. Tehran’s longest-range deployed missile, the Shabab-3, which some Iranian officials claim can fly up to 2,000 kilometers, could reach southern Europe. The MDA contends Iran might acquire a missile capable of striking the United States before 2015.

In a Feb. 10 speech blasting the United States at a high-level security conference in Munich, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Iran as a threat justifying the U.S. bases. Putin said the fielding of missile defenses in Europe “cannot help but disturb us.”

Days later, top Russian military officials, including General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of Russia’s general staff, implied Russia could react to the U.S. interceptors by withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This accord, which led to the destruction of 2,692 missiles, bans U.S. and Russian possession of ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Putin also indicated Russia was re-evaluating the INF Treaty, although he attributed the deliberations to the accord’s inequity of forbidding Russia from having missiles similar to those being acquired by other countries. “It is obvious that in these conditions we must think about ensuring our own security,” Putin stated.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates registered concerns about the treaty’s possible abrogation. He told reporters Feb. 15 that it would be “a problem for us” and a “special problem” for European countries. Gates also said a Russian INF Treaty withdrawal could not be linked plausibly to the proposed European anti-missile units because they pose “no threat to Russia.”

Obering made a similar case Jan. 25, noting that Russia’s hundreds of ballistic missiles vastly outnumber the 10 planned interceptors. He further pointed out that the anti-missile systems would be physically incapable of stopping Russian missiles launched at the United States because the interceptors would be attempting to catch Russian missiles from behind as they fly away from, not toward, the interceptors.

The MDA chief also said he had kept Russian officials informed of U.S. plans and “will continue to work closely with the Russians.” Obering noted, however, that the United States would have to secure the agreement of host governments to permit Russian delegations to visit any future U.S. anti-missile sites on the continent.

If the Polish and Czech governments quickly consent to U.S. plans, Obering said construction could begin in 2008 and the sites could be operational as soon as 2011. He projected costs could total $3.5 billion and said that the United States would pick up the full tab.

U.S. lawmakers last year trimmed requested funding for exploratory site work from $56 million to $32.8 million and provided $63 million for initial work on 10 interceptors that could be deployed in Europe or the United States. MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that the administration’s February fiscal year 2008 budget request asks for about $225 million for the European sites. Fiscal year 2008 begins Oct. 1.

The United States is currently deploying and testing the ground-based interceptor model designated for Europe. The model scored its first intercept of a target last September, while earlier prototypes tallied five hits in 10 attempts during rudimentary testing. (See ACT, October 2006. )

Similar to the Fort Greely, Alaska, interceptor field, which totaled 14 interceptors at the end of February, no interceptors will be flight-tested out of the European site. Obering said that, during a real attack, there probably would not be time to consult a host government before launching an interceptor.

Sovereignty concerns, doubts about the system’s capabilities, and comments by Russian officials that they would target the anti-missile sites have caused mixed opinions among the Polish and Czech populations about the endeavor. Nevertheless, leaders in each country say they are inclined to engage in formal negotiations.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces Policy Brian Green told reporters Jan. 25 that the United States has been “very, very pleased” with discussions with the two governments and that Washington has “every expectation that our more intense discussions…will succeed.” Green and Obering said, however, that alternatives existed if negotiations with the two countries failed.

A U.S. bid to base anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic is provoking strong reactions from Russia, including hints that it might abrogate a two-decade-old treaty restricting Russian missile holdings. (Continue)

Missile Defense Remains Budget Priority

Wade Boese

Anti-missile programs have been a consistent Bush administration funding favorite, and its recent budget request to Congress continues the trend. All told, the Pentagon is seeking approximately $10.8 billion for its various missile defense projects.

The full Department of Defense fiscal year 2008 spending submission equals $623 billion and is supposed to fund all military activities, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, for the year beginning Oct. 1. But the Pentagon also asked lawmakers Feb. 5 for an extra $93 billion to bridge an estimated spending shortfall through Oct. 1, primarily to maintain ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Most of the proposed future missile defense funding is part of the $75 billion research, development, test, and evaluation portion of the Pentagon budget because many of the systems are works in progress. The task of readying them for action rests primarily with the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

The MDA initially planned this year to ask for $9.3 billion, the same amount as last year’s budget request, but the Pentagon instructed the agency to shave $500 million. Still, the leftover $8.8 billion bid stands as the third largest ever for the MDA or its predecessors and accounts for roughly 80 percent of all proposed fiscal year 2008 missile defense spending.

About one-half of the MDA funds are dedicated to the agency’s three anti-missile systems undergoing or on the verge of deployment. The rudimentary, long-range Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) is allocated the largest slice of the budget, at $2.5 billion. The ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and the ground-mobile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) are allotted $1 billion and $858 million, respectively. These two systems are geared toward stopping short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles, but the MDA hopes ultimately to upgrade them to counter long-range missiles too.

The $2 billion in non-MDA missile defense spending is dispersed among the Air Force, Army, and Joint Staff. Almost one-half of this amount, $912.5 million, is on tap for the Army’s short- and medium-range ballistic missile defense system, the Patriot, which has a mixed battlefield record. (See ACT, November 2003. ) The Army intends to allocate nearly $473 million for purchasing 108 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptors. By the end of this year, the Army PAC-3 inventory is projected to number some 540 interceptors.

The Air Force aims to spend $587 million for the Space-Based Infrared System-high (SBIRS-high) program and $231 million on the Alternative Infrared Space System. Both satellite constellations are intended to spot ballistic missile launches around the world. The Air Force initiated the second program last year because of concerns about the rising costs and technical viability of SBIRS, although its initial orbiting sensor is reportedly performing well.

The MDA hopes that one of the Air Force systems can eventually be paired with the MDA’s own nascent Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) to provide seamless and precise tracking of hostile ballistic missiles worldwide. The MDA is seeking $331.5 million for the program, which is supposed to launch two demonstration satellites this year. But the STSS also has been prone to delays. Indeed, the MDA reported in January that the launch of possible follow-on satellites to the first duo have slipped at least four years to 2016.

The MDA has touted SBIRS and the STSS as key data contributors to the agency’s signature GMD system. Under orders from President George W. Bush, the MDA fielded the first GMD interceptor in July 2004 despite the system’s sparse and spotty testing record. More than two years later, the MDA scored the first and, to date, only intercept of a target in flight using an interceptor model the same as those deployed. (See ACT, October 2006. )

As of the end of February, 14 GMD interceptors were emplaced in Alaska and another two stationed in California. The MDA aims to raise the total to roughly two dozen by the end of this year and up to 54 by 2011, including 10 in Europe.

Similarly, the MDA is looking to build up its sea-based component, the Aegis defense, which has scored seven hits in nine intercept tests. Seven warships are now outfitted with the Aegis missile defense engagement capability, and three more are supposed to join their ranks this year. The MDA envisions up to 18 vessels armed with a total of 83 interceptors sailing the world’s waters by 2011.

The MDA aims to add THAAD interceptors to the deployment mix by 2009. After experiencing a seven-year intercept testing hiatus, THAAD has hit targets in two recent experiments, the latest on Jan. 27. THAAD interceptors are designed to collide with enemy ballistic missiles as they descend toward the ground.

The agency also is trying to perfect two systems to counter missiles shortly after their launch, when they are still ascending. But both projects, the Airborne Laser (ABL) and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), pose significant engineering and technical challenges.

The MDA recently pushed back by a year to 2009 the first shoot-down attempt of a target in flight by the ABL aircraft, a modified Boeing 747 equipped with a powerful laser. This is six years later than originally scheduled.

Indeed, the Bush administration initiated the fast accelerating, ground-based KEI in 2003 as a possible ABL replacement. Now the KEI is experiencing similar problems. Its potential operational availability has moved back four years to 2014.

Still, the agency is currently standing by both programs. The MDA is seeking nearly $549 million for the ABL and $227.5 million for the KEI. MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that KEI bore much of the agency’s $500 million cut.

The other program primarily affected was the agency’s proposed space-based test bed. This project calls for deploying and testing by around 2012 a few satellites armed with interceptors. The MDA had slated $45 million for initiating work but slashed it to $10 million. Future annual funding is projected to climb to $124 million in fiscal year 2013.

The MDA nearly doubled funding this year for another futuristic effort, the Multiple Kill Vehicle. Slotted for $271 million, this program aims to develop kill vehicles small enough so several can fit on a single interceptor. This capability, which is supposed to be ready for flight by 2012, would lessen the requirement for satellites or interceptors to try and discriminate an actual warhead from any decoys or other countermeasures employed to confuse a defense.

Critics say that the MDA’s anti-missile systems, most notably the GMD, are vulnerable to decoys and countermeasures. They contend tests must be made more challenging by conducting them under greater real-world conditions and against more realistic targets.

The Office of Operational Test and Evaluation, the Pentagon’s independent weapons testing office, shares a similar view. In an annual survey of arms programs, the office recently described the U.S. missile defense capability as “very basic” but “increasing.” Although the office assessed the MDA as conducting “disciplined ground and flight testing,” it noted that the programs need “additional flight test data under stressing conditions…to increase confidence in the models, simulations, and assessment of system capability.”

At least one lawmaker, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), is almost certain to pay careful attention to the testing reporting. Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Levin has been critical of the Pentagon’s missile defense approach. “I think it’s a mistake to purchase all of the missiles before we know that they’re going to work,” he told reporters last November.

If Levin’s remarks are any indicator, the Bush administration may find its latest missile defense spending proposal to be a tougher sell this year with Congress under Democratic control than it has been in previous years when Republicans ruled.

Anti-missile programs have been a consistent Bush administration funding favorite, and its recent budget request to Congress continues the trend. All told, the Pentagon is seeking approximately $10.8 billion for its various missile defense projects. (Continue)

Missile Defense Under Scrutiny

Wade Boese

Top U.S. defense officials were honored recently for activating a rudimentary anti-ballistic missile system last year. But a key lawmaker says more testing is needed to prove the system can work, and a Pentagon advisory task force also has questioned the system’s utility.

Defying criticism from Moscow and many Democrats, President George W. Bush moved resolutely after taking office to abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and order deployment of the system. It currently comprises 14 land-based missile interceptors with up to another 36 on the way, including possibly 10 destined for Europe.

Administration officials claim the interceptors would defend the country against the growing missile capabilities of Iran and North Korea. Despite recent testing, neither country has a missile in service that could strike the United States from their territory.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld oversaw deployment of the U.S. interceptors until Dec. 18, 2006, when Robert Gates was sworn in as his successor. At that Pentagon ceremony, the president applauded Rumsfeld for taking “ballistic missile defense from theory to reality.”

Four days earlier, Rumsfeld had awarded a Defense Distinguished Service Medal to Lieutenant General Henry Obering, the head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The citation hailed Obering for erecting a system that U.S. leaders had “confidence” to put on alert prior to several North Korean missile test launches last July. (See ACT, September 2006.)

Some do not share that faith. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters last November that the Pentagon has “not done the operational testing yet that is convincing that [the system] will work.” Operational testing refers to experiments resembling real attacks.

Levin pressed Gates at his Dec. 5 confirmation hearing on whether he supported operational testing of weapons before their deployment. Gates said he did, but he also noted earlier in the hearing that “my instinct would be that if we have something that has some capability, it’s better than having no capability.”

The existing strategic anti-missile system has scored six intercepts in 11 trials since October 1999, but the tests have not been “operationally” realistic, and only one of the successes followed Bush’s December 2002 deployment order. That hit took place last September and marked the first intercept for an interceptor design matching those stationed in Alaska and California. (See ACT, October 2006.)

MDA intended to conduct another intercept attempt before the end of 2006, but the earliest it will now occur is April. Agency spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today Dec. 14 that MDA needed time for Raytheon Corp. to make some software changes to the interceptor’s exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV). This roughly 60-kilogram component rides atop the interceptor’s boosters and is released in space, where it is supposed to hone in on and collide with its target.

Lehner said there has been no decision whether the upcoming test will involve trying to intercept a mock warhead alone or one with decoys, which would demand the EKV discriminate between multiple targets. Some past tests involved decoys, but the last experiment did not. Critics maintain real foes will use decoys and other countermeasures to trump the system.

A task force of an advisory board to the secretary of defense, the Defense Science Board, implied in an unclassified December 2006 report that MDA is not sufficiently addressing the countermeasures problem. Consequently, the group warned, “fielding the current systems in larger numbers will not lead to a robust [defense].”

Lehner disputed this criticism, citing the Multiple Kill Vehicle program. This effort aims to make kill vehicles small enough—about the size of a loaf of bread—so several can be outfitted on an interceptor. The concept is that each kill vehicle would destroy a separate object in a target cluster, mitigating the challenge of singling out an incoming warhead. Current MDA plans call for intercept testing of the miniature kill vehicles to begin in 2012.

Whether MDA can keep this nascent program on schedule is highly uncertain. Even more established missile defense projects are susceptible to delays and setbacks.

Indeed, according to an MDA press release, an “incorrect configuration” forced the agency to abort a Dec. 7 intercept test of its ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, which is designed to counter shorter-range missiles. The system’s next chance to improve on its record of seven hits in nine attempts, including the December mishap, will come this spring.

Anti-Missile System Scores Test Hit

Wade Boese

The Pentagon’s strategic ballistic missile defense intercepted a test target Sept. 1 for the first time since President George W. Bush ordered the rudimentary system deployed nearly four years ago. The success comes on the cusp of a U.S. decision to extend the system to Europe, although nongovernmental missile defense proponents vigorously advocate a different destination: space.

Just hours after the test, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), declared the experiment a “total success” and a “huge step” for advancing missile defenses. He also said the outcome gave him confidence that the system had a “good chance” of destroying a missile in a real attack. Nonetheless, the flight test fell short of resembling a realistic scenario, and in one respect, it was less difficult than past tests.

Still, the experiment involved several firsts. It involved the first launch of an interceptor of the same make as the 11 currently deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska, and the two stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. In another departure, both the test interceptor and target missile were launched from new locations.

The test interceptor was launched from Vandenberg. Prior testing involved firing the interceptor from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The target missile was launched from Kodiak, Alaska, rather than Vandenberg in order to generate a different trajectory.

Instead of shooting the target missile west over the Pacific Ocean toward Hawaii, the new launch point enabled MDA to fire the target south. That allowed the target missile’s flight to more closely resemble the path that a North Korean missile might take. For some time, the Pentagon has postulated that North Korea represents one of the key near-term threats that the rudimentary defense must be prepared to stop. That premise only appears to have been reinforced after Pyongyang in July conducted a partly successful spate of missile tests, even though the longest-range system failed shortly after takeoff. (See ACT, September 2006. )

In the Sept. 1 flight test, an early-warning satellite detected the target missile’s launch and relayed coordinates to the ground-based midcourse (GMD) system’s fire control center at Colorado Springs, which cued an early-warning radar located at Beale Air Force Base, California, to start tracking the target. Once the radar started tracking the missile, trajectory data was sent back to Colorado Springs, where a “firing solution” was formulated and then electronically fed into the test interceptor at Vandenberg.

The interceptor blasted out of its silo roughly 16 minutes after the target’s launch. After the interceptor’s final booster rocket burned out, it released an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) in space. This roughly 60-kilogram mass of sensors then received a target update from Colorado Springs and maneuvered into a collision with the mock warhead from the target missile. The collision occurred approximately six and one-half minutes after the interceptor’s launch.

“What we saw today was a very realistic trajectory for the threat…and a very realistic trajectory, a very realistic intercept altitude, and intercept speeds for the…interceptor against the target,” Obering told reporters afterward. In addition, the system’s fire control center was manned by an actual crew of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade, instead of private contractors. Obering concluded that “this is about as close as we can come to an end-to-end test of our long-range missile defense system.”

Still, key elements of the system did not participate in the test. Although tested separately on other occasions, the Cobra Dane radar located at the western tip of the Aleutian Islands could not be used because it is permanently oriented away from the recent experiment’s location. Cobra Dane would be the primary radar for relaying early tracking data on a missile fired at the United States from the direction of Asia.

Another sensor, the sea-based X-band radar, also did not contribute tracking data for the intercept, although MDA reported it operated in a “shadow mode.” The radar is supposed to help the system discriminate between an enemy warhead and any decoys that might accompany it.

Previous systems involved up to three decoys with a mock warhead, but the latest test had none. Roughly one-third of the Sept. 1 EKV’s software and hardware were different from those of previously tested models, so the test scenario was simplified to check if the revamped EKV could perform its basic functions. Indeed, MDA did not officially characterize the test as an intercept attempt, but as a data collection flight test.

A former director of the Pentagon’s independent weapons testing office, Philip Coyle, wrote a Sept. 11 commentary for Neiman Watchdog, a Harvard University online journalism publication, calling the latest test “the simplest flight intercept test ever” because of the lack of decoys. Many scientific critics of the Pentagon’s strategic missile defense say that adversaries will be able to use decoys and other countermeasures to thwart the system.

Obering said he was “confident” that the system could “handle simple countermeasures” and that future tests of the system will add them. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also said in a Sept. 1 statement that the tests will become “more challenging.” Neither specified whether the next intercept test scheduled tentatively for December will involve decoys.

All told, the GMD system has achieved six hits in 11 tests involving targets. Prior to the latest trial, the defense had not scored a successful intercept since October 2002.

Following a December 2002 miss, the system went into a testing hiatus as the Pentagon concentrated on fielding interceptors to comply with Bush’s order that month to deploy an initial system in 2004. (See ACT, January/February 2003. ) MDA resumed testing in December 2004, but technical malfunctions caused the first two attempts to be aborted before the interceptor launched.

This meager testing record was becoming a source of discontent for some lawmakers. Seven Democratic members of Congress, including the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton ( Mo.), sent Rumsfeld a letter Aug. 29 pressing for more realistic testing. Similarly, the Senate Appropriations Committee also contended in July that MDA was devoting too many resources to researching futuristic concepts instead of focusing on “adequate testing and fielding of currently available technology.”

Obering told Arms Control Today Sept. 15 that the Pentagon “will continue to request funding that is adequate for both near-term and future missile defense technology development and deployment efforts.” He described both as “essential for current and future national security needs.”

One deployment option that MDA is preparing to embark on is to Europe. The Bush administration contends that Europe-based interceptors are needed to counter a growing Iranian ballistic missile threat. Tehran’s longest-range missile, the Shahab-3, can reach as far as Turkey.

Washington has approached the Czech Republic and Poland about hosting the site, but no agreement has yet been reached. During a visit to Washington, Polish Defense Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Sept. 13 Poland would want some additional bilateral security arrangements with Washington in return for hosting interceptors.

U.S. lawmakers have not fully embraced the European deployment plan. The House earlier completely eliminated the $119 million requested for the site by the Bush administration as part of the fiscal year 2007 budget, while the Senate fully funded it. In a Sept. 22 compromise, the two chambers agreed to provide $32.8 million for the site and $63 million to begin work on the base’s proposed 10 interceptors, which lawmakers also said could be deployed elsewhere. This amounts to a $23 million cut from the original request.

Meanwhile, a group of nongovernmental missile defense advocates called the Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, and the 21st Century is urging limited deployments of ground-based systems and more work toward stationing interceptors in orbit. The group includes Ambassador Henry Cooper, who headed a predecessor organization to MDA that, during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, focused on developing space-based systems to protect against a presumed onslaught of Soviet ICBMs.

In a report released this summer, the group argued that the Bush administration’s system “provides extremely limited coverage” and leaves unaddressed potential threats from “strategic competitors such as Russia and China,” as well as from surprise missile launches by ships off U.S. coasts. As a remedy, the group advocates the deployment of up to 1,000 space-based interceptors beginning with an initial capability in 2010. Testing of space-based interceptors, they recommend, should start in three years.

MDA has plans to explore placing interceptors in orbit, but at a much slower pace and smaller scale than proposed by the nongovernmental group. The agency intends to start requesting funding in next year’s budget for establishing a “test-bed” around 2012 of less than a “handful” of interceptors, Obering told Arms Control Today last year. (See ACT, November 2005. )

On Sept. 15, Obering told Arms Control Today that MDA still has “plans to conduct technical demonstrations to determine the technical viability of space-based defenses.” But he also noted that space-based missile defenses require “a significant policy debate.”

China and Russia for the past several years have sought to block U.S. missile defense plans for space by getting the 65-member Conference on Disarmament to negotiate an agreement on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. But the conference operates by consensus, and the United States has consistently opposed the Chinese and Russian initiative, arguing that there is no arms race in space. The conference ended its 2006 session Sept. 15 without having started any negotiations, including on the outer space issue.



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.”


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. (Continue)

Congress Backs Bush's Defense Budget

Wade Boese

Bush administration nuclear weapons and missile defense funding requests are likely to emerge from Congress largely unscathed, with administration plans having only suffered modest setbacks after several weeks of debate. White House appeals for disposing and securing dangerous arms stockpiles worldwide have won bipartisan backing, although some lawmakers have complained they are too stingy.

In June, the Senate and House of Representatives wrapped up separate reviews of the administration’s proposed $400 billion-plus budget for military spending in fiscal year 2005, which begins Oct. 1. Later this summer, the two bodies will work to reconcile differences between their respective versions of the defense authorization bill and the defense and energy appropriations bills. Authorization bills set policy guidelines and spending ceilings, while appropriations bills more precisely itemize spending.

The Senate and House each approved roughly $416 billion in their appropriations bills, including $25 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that was not part of the original budget submission.

"If we want a missile defense that works rather than one that sits on the ground and soaks up money, we should not shy away from realistic testing requirements."
— Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.)

"This is just another attempt to research missile defense to death and never build it."
—Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)

Nuclear Weapons Research Contested

As he did last year, Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) mounted the most serious challenge to the Bush administration’s nuclear weapons plans. The chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development turned aside administration requests to research modified and new nuclear weapons, lessen the time needed to resume nuclear testing, and prepare for building a new atomic bomb-making facility. Together, these initiatives would have cost $96 million. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Hobson implied June 9 that he viewed some nuclear weapons spending as excessive and wasteful. Complaining that the “weapons complex is still sized to support a Cold War stockpile,” he stated, “the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] needs to take a ‘time-out’ on new initiatives.” The NNSA is the Department of Energy agency responsible for the nuclear weapons stockpile.

Hobson reserved his greatest scorn for administration proposals to continue investigating modified warheads to better destroy targets deep underground and new warheads with lower yields. A June 18 statement by his subcommittee deemed administration justifications for such projects “superficial.” It further charged that the NNSA’s “obsession with launching a new round of nuclear weapons development runs counter” to U.S. efforts to dissuade other countries to forswear nuclear arms. The NNSA repeatedly says that no decision has been made to develop new weapons.

Although the cuts he enacted might be partially restored when Congress fleshes out its final budget package, Hobson, at least for the moment, succeeded where Democrats failed.

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.) led an unsuccessful bid to amend the authorization bill to shift funding for nuclear weapons research to conventional armaments, while Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) fell short in their effort to eliminate such research altogether. Tauscher’s attempt failed by just 10 votes on the House floor, and the senators lost by a slightly larger deficit of 13 votes in the full Senate.

Republicans fended off these Democratic initiatives by emphasizing that the budget only permitted research on and not development or production of new weapons, suggesting that GOP support for the administration’s nuclear weapons plans may have its limits.

Indeed, four Republican senators held off on introducing a proposal to mandate congressional approval prior to an underground nuclear test of a robust nuclear earth penetrator warhead only after receiving assurances that such a requirement already existed. The administration says it has no plans to test nuclear weapons, but it also refuses to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the United States signed in 1996 and the Senate rejected in 1999.

Missile Defenses Trimmed

Democrats were able to whittle away at the Pentagon’s $10.2 billion request for missile defenses. Yet, the core of the program survived. Senate appropriators matched the administration’s request, while their House counterparts pruned it by roughly a half-billion dollars.

In general, both bodies shifted funding away from nascent projects to those further along in development. The House Appropriations Committee warned the Pentagon June 18 that it “appears to be rushing toward development of next-generation technologies without fully testing or developing the systems that comprise the current generation.”

The Pentagon effort to build an interceptor to strike enemy missiles during their first minutes of flight was treated with healthy skepticism. Senate appropriators more than halved the administration’s $511 million request for the boost-phase system, and House members reduced it by $113 million.

Democrats found themselves alone, however, when they turned their attention toward cutting or constraining more near-term missile defense activities.

These debates largely occurred in the Senate because House Republicans limited debate on what defense proposals legislators could discuss. Democratic senators launched what amounted to their largest offensive against missile defense programs in several years. Their efforts centered on subjecting proposed systems to tougher testing and limiting future deployments.

Current Pentagon plans call for fielding up to 20 ground-based missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, by the end of 2005. The Pentagon has also requested full funding for an additional 10 interceptors to be deployed in 2006 and preliminary funding for another 10 interceptors for possible deployment at an undetermined third site, which could be built in Europe (see story). House appropriators cut the funds for the interceptors associated with the potential third site, but their Senate counterparts did not, so it is not clear whether the Pentagon will get this funding.

Democrats charge that the defense will be little more than a scarecrow because it has not undergone operational testing, which is conducted under more realistic conditions than the developmental testing that the missile defense system has been subjected to so far. Democrats point out that the two major components of the interceptor have not been tested together and that past intercept testing has not been sufficiently stressing: a beacon on the target has helped provide initial tracking data to plot the interceptor’s flight path; the same flight trajectories have been repeated every time; and the target cluster has lacked decoys closely resembling the mock warhead, making it simpler for the interceptor to pick out what it should hit. The system has scored five hits in eight intercept attempts, the last of which failed in December 2002.

Republicans beat back by a 57 to 42 vote a June 17 proposal by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to require that the interceptors undergo operational testing before fielding. GOP senators asserted that the interceptors must be deployed first and then tested.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) proposed that the Pentagon develop an operational testing plan and establish cost and performance baselines for the system. Republicans rebuffed his initiative, saying that the system must constantly evolve and baselines and rigid testing plans would stunt its growth.

Moreover, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), a staunch missile defense supporter, responded to Reed’s proposal by reading a May 17 letter from the director of the Pentagon’s office of operational test and evaluation, Thomas Christie. “Conducting realistic operational testing in the near-term for the [system] would be premature and not beneficial to the program,” Christie wrote.

Reed called the letter “extraordinary...It says basically this system is not mature enough to test, but we are going to deploy it.”

Instead, the Senate agreed to a counterproposal by the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.). It requires the system to be operationally tested by Oct. 1, 2005, but lets the secretary of defense, rather than Christie, define the criteria for what constitutes operational testing. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) argued to no avail that Warner’s move violates a long-standing law that weapons systems must undergo independent testing. A Pentagon spokesperson on June 25 declined to comment.

Reed made one last stab at imposing operational testing. He called on the Senate to withhold the $550 million allocated to interceptors beyond the first 20 until after the first round of deployment is subjected to operational testing.

Although a different tact, it had the same result. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) led the Republican rally against Reed’s effort. The 53-45 defeat of Reed’s proposal marked the closest tally of all the Senate votes on missile defense.

Levin also unsuccessfully tried to cap the deployment at 20 interceptors by proposing that the money allocated for the next 10 interceptors be redirected to nonproliferation and anti-terrorism programs. Republicans contended this would disrupt current production lines and jeopardize the system’s expansion. In addition, they charged it represented a false choice, claiming that the other programs were sufficiently funded.

Threat Reduction

Congress fully endorsed President George W. Bush’s request for $409 million—an amount about 10 percent smaller than that granted last year—for the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program to help other countries, particularly those of the former Soviet Union, guard and eliminate their excess weapons stockpiles. The CTR program accounts for about a third of U.S. funding devoted to dealing with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and related materials around the world.

While applauding the Pentagon’s recent handling of the CTR program, the House Armed Services Committee released a May 13 statement that it “continues to be alarmed by Russia’s weak commitment to the goals of CTR.” Led by CTR skeptic Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the committee cited Russian strategic modernization efforts and ambiguities surrounding Moscow’s past chemical weapons program as reasons for concern.

Prodded by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who helped initiate the CTR program, Senate Republicans tend to be more supportive of threat reduction programs than their House colleagues. This year proved no exception: senators approved measures to remove the $50 million cap on CTR funds spent on countries outside the former Soviet Union and granted the president permanent waiver authority to continue funding Russian chemical weapons destruction activities, even if Moscow does not meet conditions to be eligible for such assistance. The House did not pass similar provisions.

Led by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the Senate also called on the Energy Department to establish a program to speed up efforts to secure and dispose of global nuclear materials. A week later, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced May 26 just such a program, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Abraham said the new initiative, a consolidation and acceleration of existing programs, would require at least $450 million, but Congress has yet to approve any funds for it. Two separate attempts in the House to shift money to the program were soundly defeated June 25. Although he claimed to be “very supportive” of nonproliferation efforts, Hobson led the opposition against the two proposals, saying, “I view with great skepticism the large increases that are proposed by the National Nuclear Security Administration, particularly when these new initiatives are proposed outside the regular annual budget and appropriations process.”

Sea-Based Missile Defense System Misses Target

Wade Boese

A sea-based theater missile defense system scheduled for deployment within the next two years suffered its first failure in four intercept tries June 18. The Pentagon is now trying to figure out what went wrong.

In its first test since November 2002, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system was supposed to destroy a target missile minutes after its launch from Kauai Island, Hawaii. If all had worked according to plan, a kill vehicle on a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor fired from the USS Lake Erie was to home in and collide with an Aries ballistic missile target as it rose into space. Instead, the kill vehicle and the Aries target flew past each other.

A day after the miss, Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), explained that everything seemed to be going correctly seconds before the expected impact, but then the kill vehicle lost the target in the “end game.” How much distance separated the two is uncertain, though Lehner said that it “appeared to be close.”

The kill vehicle was an updated version of ones employed in previous tests. In a June 16 statement, the Pentagon said the new design was intended to “improve performance and improved production.”

Another twist differentiating the June test from its predecessors was the inclusion of a second ship, which tracked the target first and then relayed intercept data to the USS Lake Erie. Lehner said this aspect of the test “worked fine.”

The latest test marked the second in a series of six tests to be completed by the end of 2005. Unless MDA repeats the June scenario, the next test will feature a target with a separating warhead. In the tests to date, the Aries missile stays in one piece, making it a bigger target.

Up to 20 SM-3 interceptors, designed to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, are to be deployed on three Aegis ships as part of the Bush administration’s limited missile defense deployment scheduled for 2004 and 2005. The Pentagon also plans to outfit another 15 ships with upgraded radars to track ballistic missiles.

The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system—formerly known as the sea-based midcourse defense and, before that, Navy Theater Wide—is not the only missile defense system set for near-term deployment that has suffered a letdown in its most recent test. The ground-based interceptor system designed to defend against long-range ballistic missiles also failed in a December 2002 intercept test.


A sea-based theater missile defense system scheduled for deployment within the next two years suffered its first failure in four intercept tries June 18. The Pentagon is now trying to figure out what went wrong...

U.S. Pushing for Missile Defense in Taiwan

Pointing to China’s expanding force of ballistic missiles across the Taiwan Strait, the United States is trying to convince Taiwan to invest more in missile defenses, but Taipei has tightened its belt on military purchases.

At a joint U.S.-Taiwan defense industry conference in February, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stokes reported that China has deployed at least 450 conventional ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan and that the force is increasing by at least 75 missiles per year. This is a faster pace than the 50 missiles per year that the Pentagon estimated last summer.

Stokes said that Chinese missiles pose the “most significant [Chinese] coercive threat to Taiwan.” China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, says it wants a peaceful reunification between itself and the island. Yet, Beijing reserves the right to use force.

A Taiwanese official interviewed May 22 said that Taipei recognizes the threat, but that missile defense systems are expensive. Taiwan, which possesses some older model Patriot systems, is evaluating potential missile defense options, including buying Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems. Taiwan is not expected to buy any time soon.

Taiwan still has not finalized any deals from the broad package of arms that the Bush administration offered Taiwan in April 2001. That package included four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers, eight diesel-powered submarines, and a dozen P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft.

In his briefing slides, Stokes warned that Taiwan could not depend upon the United States to protect the island against Chinese missile attacks, “particularly in the opening phases of a conflict.” He further recommended that Taiwan’s leadership “commit to defending against ballistic and land attack cruise missiles.”

A Pentagon spokesperson said May 16 that the United States is not pushing any particular system but is emphasizing that Taiwan needs to reckon with the ballistic missile threat.


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