The Alaska Test Bed Fallacy: Missile Defense Deployment Goes Stealth

By Gronlund, Lisbeth; Wright, David | Arms Control Today, September 2001 | Go to article overview

The Alaska Test Bed Fallacy: Missile Defense Deployment Goes Stealth


Gronlund, Lisbeth, Wright, David, Arms Control Today


Analysis shows that some of the planned Alaska facilities would have no utility in a testing program but rather appear designed specifically as a near-term missile defense deployment.

The Bush administration has proposed building a set of missile defense facilities in Alaska by 2004, including five silos for ground-based interceptor missiles at Fort Greely, and in early September Congress will begin considering whether to fund them. According to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), these facilities are needed to allow more realistic testing of the ballistic missile defense system currently under development. BMDO has also stated that the so-called Alaska test bed could be pressed into use as an "emergency defense" should the United States be attacked by a small number of long-range missiles from northeast Asia before a fully developed and tested system had been deployed.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty allows the United States and Russia two test facilities each for launching interceptor missiles, and according to a 1978 agreed statement to the treaty, either the United States or Russia can add a new test facility simply by declaring the site within 30 days of starting construction. The new site must be "consistent with the objectives and provisions of the Treaty," and the total number of interceptor silos at all test ranges must not exceed 15. Thus, the United States could legally build the new test range as long as the facilities and activities were intended for testing and could not be used for a defense of the United States or to provide the base for such a defense.

However, careful analysis shows that some of the key facilities being planned-- particularly the silos at Fort Greely-would have no utility in a testing program but rather appear designed specifically as a near-term deployment of a rudimentary missile defense system. As such, these facilities would violate the ABM Treaty, and Russia has stated that it would consider the Fort Greely site to be a violation.

The administration insists that its proposed facilities are part of a testing, not a deployment, program; and it is seeking funding for all these facilities under the research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) category of the 2002 Pentagon budget. At the same time, President George W. Bush has indicated that the United States will withdraw from the ABM Treaty "at a time convenient to America," and the Pentagon has already begun clearing trees at Fort Greely with plans to begin silo construction next spring or summer. If the facilities constitute an initial deployment capability, the United States would have to provide the required six months' notice of withdrawal sometime this fall or winter.

Unfortunately, the disingenuousness of this strategy is compounded by the fact that the immaturity of the interceptor technology and the lack of an ABM radar in Alaska means that any emergency deployment would not be effective against an actual attack. In short, if the United States withdraws from the ABM Treaty in order to deploy a contingency system in Alaska, it will incur the political costs of withdrawing from the treaty while reaping none of the potential security benefits from a working defense.

Existing Flight-Test Facilities

The only site where the United States currently launches interceptors against long-range target missiles is the Kwajalein Test Range, located on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.1 In addition to an interceptor launch site, this facility includes a prototype X-band radar, which is a onethird-scale version of the battle-management radar that is the key sensor to be used in the missile defense system. The facility also includes $4 billion of advanced sensors and computers that are used to observe and collect information on the tests.

In the four intercept tests of the midcourse system conducted to date, a target missile carrying a mock warhead was fired toward the Kwajalein test facility from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, some 7,500 kilometers away. …

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The Alaska Test Bed Fallacy: Missile Defense Deployment Goes Stealth
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