The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency is on the verge of getting a sweetheart deal that is beyond the wildest dreams of even the craftiest Enron executive. If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has his way, the new agency will be free to pursue the Bush Administration’s Star Wars fantasy without the scrutiny of independent accountants, auditors or technical experts. As Bradley Graham of the Washington Post reported in mid-February, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has decided to exempt missile defense development from normal reporting procedures on costs and schedules, as well as from the need to relate the performance requirements being sought in the new system to specific projected threats. Just for good measure, key tests will be conducted without oversight by the Pentagon’s independent testing office. Lisbeth Gronlund of the Union of Concerned Scientists sums up the Pentagon’s new approach: “Rather than first spell out what’s needed, it sounds like they’re just going to create something and then say, ‘This is what we need.’ In effect, they’re saying ‘Whatever you’ve got, we’ll take.'”
This all must come as a great relief to the big four missile defense contractors, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and TRW. Given the history of fraud, cost overruns and rigged testing that has characterized the program to date, the last thing they want is independent scrutiny. Two recent reports by the General Accounting Office have confirmed that Boeing and TRW manipulated data from a 1997 test in order to overstate the capabilities of antimissile sensor technology designed to tell the difference between nuclear warheads and decoys. The reports reinforce longstanding allegations of fraud in the testing program. Recent tests have raised further doubts about the integrity of missile defense testing. A November 2001 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that tests of ground-based missile defense interceptors have been using a beacon to guide the interceptor to within 400 meters of the mock warhead before an intercept is attempted–a courtesy not likely to be provided by an actual adversary. And a January test of a sea-based interceptor used a target that was substantially larger than the kinds of warheads the system would be expected to intercept in the event of a real attack.
The evaluation of future missile defense tests will be in the hands of Lieut. Gen. Ronald Kadish, the director of the Missile Defense Agency. And the task of integrating the proposed array of air-, land-, sea- and space-based missile defense technologies into a workable system will be contracted out to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, both of which will head a team of engineers handpicked from major weapons contractors. In short, no one without a vested interest in seeing the missile defense program move forward will be involved in evaluating the capabilities of the proposed system. Given recent estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that a multitiered system of the kind favored by the Bush Administration could cost as much as $238 billion, don’t expect to hear too many discouraging words from the Missile Defense Agency’s development team. There’s too much money to be made.