Missile Defense Performance Top Concern
Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today
A congressional investigative body recently concluded that operation of the Pentagon's fledgling missile defense system "remains uncertain and unverified."
Last fall, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) installed six long-range, ground-based ballistic missile interceptors in Alaska and two more in California. MDA also completed upgrading two early warning radars for tracking ballistic missiles and linked all these elements together with an expansive command and control communications network. Although President George W. Bush and top Pentagon officials said the system would be ready for action before 2005, it has yet to be declared operational, and test interceptors failed to leave the ground in the system's last two experiments. (see ACT, March 2005.)
MDA Director lieutenant General Henry Obering told lawmakers at an April 7 Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing that the system would now enter a "performance and reliability verification phase." More strenuous test preparations and greater accountability for commercial contractors working on the system will be key aspects of the new phase, the general stated. These steps follow on the heels of Obering's appointment of a new supervisor for testing readiness. (see ACT, April 2005.)
Obering expressed his frustration over the recent test failures at the hearing. "It's almost like we can't get our star quarterback on the field because he keeps tripping over the bench," the MDA director stated.
Still, Obering said he had confidence in the system's basic functionality. General James Cartwright, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), said at the same hearing that the system currently constitutes a "thin line" defense or "emergency capability." STRATCOM oversees operation of deployed missile defenses.
David Duma, who is in charge of the Pentagon's weapons testing office, noted April 7 that, despite having the equipment, operators, and procedures of the system in place, "[w]hat we don't have is a demonstration that they all work together yet. …