Problems with Current U.S. Policy

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Key Problems

* Ambitious missile defense proposal fails to take into account the reality of missile defense programs under development.

* The costs, both monetary and political, of deploying NMD outweigh the benefits.

* Bush's missile defense system is coupled with radical changes in the size and composition of U.S. nuclear forces and does not entail a proposal for abandoning the grim reality of mutually assured destruction (MAD).

Despite the Bush administration's determination to have a rudimentary missile defense system in place by 2004, the fact remains that none of the Pentagon's missile defense programs are up to the task, and it is not because the ABM Treaty is standing in the way. The annual report of the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) outlines the daunting challenges facing U.S. missile defense programs. Assessing the ground-based NMD system, the DOT&E report warns that the system is far from ready to intercept the kinds of missiles "currently deployed by the established nuclear powers" and recommends broadening the test program to attempt to intercept real world threats that include decoys. To date, the system has failed two out of three intercept tests. A new DOT&E report claims that the one successful test used a Global Positioning System inside the mock warhead that helped guide the intercept missile to the target.

Meanwhile, the sea-based, boost-phase system, promoted by many missile defense advocates as a near-term and easy solution to the nuclear threat, is based on a missile that has yet to be designed, much less tested. The DOT&E report asserts that it is not a viable option and goes on to note that "a major upgrade to the AEGIS radar" would be required, while both the missile and kill vehicle would have to be radically redesigned. Optimistic estimates put initial deployment at 2008, with full deployment not possible before 2020.

The Space-Based Laser, intended to destroy a ballistic missile in its boost phase, is little more than a concept at this stage. Only a handful of components of the system have been tested, the actual testing facility hasn't even been built, and integrated flight experiments aren't expected to take place until 2010. According to a General Accounting Office report, the Air Force's new satellite surveillance package, called Space-Based Infrared System-Low, is "at a high risk of not delivering the system on time or at cost or with expected performance." The satellite network, which is to track incoming warheads and decoys, is a vital component of any expansive missile defense system. The Air Force plans to launch the network's 24 satellites in 2006, with the full system deployed by 2010. But this time frame means that the Air Force would begin deploying the satellites before adequate testing has been completed.

The multitiered approach favored by the Bush administration will be enormously expensive, dwarfing the Congressional Budget Office estimate of $60 billion for the Clinton administration's more modest system. Estimates for the more ambitious Bush approach range from the Council for a Livable World's projection of at least $120 billion to the Center on Strategic and International Studies' (CSIS) prediction of $240 billion. …