Magazine article Arms Control Today

Panel Criticizes U.S. 'Rush' to Deploy Missile Defense Systems

Magazine article Arms Control Today

Panel Criticizes U.S. 'Rush' to Deploy Missile Defense Systems

Article excerpt

A NEW STUDY by an independent panel of experts has warned that U.S. ballistic missile defense programs suffer from a "rush to failure" as a consequence of efforts to rapidly deploy such systems before they have been thoroughly flight tested. The study, which was chaired by retired Air Force General Larry Welch and completed in late February, cautioned that there is "very high risk" involved in the Clinton administration's national missile defense (NMD) program schedule and recommended that the program would benefit from the "earliest possible restructuring." The Report of the Panel on Reducing Risk In Ballistic Missile Defense Flight Test Programs was prompted by a series of flight test failures by U.S. missile defense systems under development.

Despite the panel's warnings, the Clinton administration has no plans to abandon its "3+3" schedule, which calls for the development of the elements of an NMD system by 2000, with the option of deploying the system three years later if the ballistic missile threat makes it necessary. The panel report is also unlikely to significantly influence the views held by congressional critics of the administration, who claim that the United States is moving too slowly on NMD deployment.

The Welch panel was "composed of members who have extensive experience in the development, testing, and operational employment of complex systems." The 16member panel was appointed last year by the director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) and two other senior Defense Department officials to evaluate the risks involved in the flight test programs of four "hit-to-kill" missile defense systems: the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) systems; the Navy's Theater Wide Defense (NTWD) system; and the NMD program. The primary goal of the study was to apply lessons from the development of theater missile defense systems to the NMD program. …

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