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The Costly Failure of Missile Defense | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

The Costly Failure of Missile Defense


Nuclear missile silo. (Courtesy of Flickr user Steve Jurvetson)

Never mind that no one is firing ICBMs at us. It’s been three decades since Ronald Reagan cooked up his cockamamie plan to shoot down missiles in the sky, and while technology has improved incalculably since then, after countless billions of dollars—according to The  New York Times, it’s $250 billion—the damn things still don’t work.

Last week, following yet another failure, and as if it just occurred to him, the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency—yes, it has a whole “agency”—said that he’d look into it:

Following recent testing failures, the director of the Missile Defense Agency told Congress today that he is committed to a full evaluation of the way forward for the nation’s ballistic missile defense system.

Of course, he added, the evaluation will cost money, too.

In a devastating commentary by a Reuters analyst, we learn that the test itself was “rigged” and scripted, that there were no countermeasures (as in real-life war), and that the test itself cost $214 million:

Immediately following the Fourth of July fireworks, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) tried out some fireworks of its own. By trying to hit a missile with a missile they attempted a demonstration of the defensive “shield,” designed to protect the U.S. from North Korean and Iranian nuclear missiles. It turned out to be a dud. As with the two previous attempts, the Ground Based Missile Defense system once again failed. This failure happened despite the fact that the demonstration was essentially rigged: the intercept team knew ahead of time when to expect the incoming missile and all its relevant flight parameters. Such luxury is obviously not available in real-life combat. But even if the $214 million “test” had worked it would not prove much.

Still, Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, wants more testing—more, more, more—and damn the expense. Of course, he blames President Obama for cuts in the program—certainly not the cause of the failure, but a convenient scapegoat. Says McKeon:

While it may take some time to reach a final diagnosis of the cause of the July 5th test failure, it is already clear that President Obama’s decision to drastically cut funding for the GMD program since he came into office and to “curtail additional GMD development” has drained funding available to conduct needed tests of this system.

McKeon’s comments came in a say-it-ain’t-so letter to Secretary of Defense Hagel.

But in a scathing editorial, The New York Times basically says fuggedaboutit:

Predictably, many Congressional Republicans blame the problems on President Obama and budget cuts supported by the Democrats. But experts say design flaws crept into the program during the George W. Bush administration and the problems were compounded by a rush to deploy the system before tests were run. Along with the Pentagon, many Republicans are now pushing for more missile defense tests as well as the development of 14 more ground-based interceptors (for a total of 44 at sites in California and Alaska) for an additional cost of $1 billion. Some lawmakers also want a new missile defense site on the East Coast that could run as high as $3.6 billion.

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The North Korean and Iranian missile programs are a threat that the United States must guard against. But it doesn’t make sense to keep throwing money at a flawed system without correcting the problems first.

But the Pentagon’s answer to “fuggedaboutit” is “you tawkin’ to me?” They’re going global, says Defense News:

While the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is being forced to answer questions about the viability of its homeland missile defense program after a third failed intercept test in five years, the Pentagon is quickly moving forward with deployments of key radar and missile defense systems to Japan, Guam, Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Defense contractors can make billions—billions, I tell you!—selling these worthless system to scared bunnies in the Arab kleptocracies of the Persian Gulf, who are worried about Iran.

More from Katrina vanden Heuvel on the great missile defense scam.

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