The Forty Billion Dollar Missile Defense Boondoggle
By Charles Pierce, Esquire
17 June 14
Within minutes, the interceptor's three boosters had burned out and fallen away, and the kill vehicle was hurtling through space at 4 miles per second. It was supposed to crash into the mock enemy warhead and obliterate it. It missed. At a cost of about $200 million, the mission had failed. Eleven months later, when the U.S. Missile Defense Agency staged a repeat of the test, it failed, too. The next attempted intercept, launched from Vandenberg on July 5, 2013, also ended in failure. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD, was supposed to protect Americans against a chilling new threat from "rogue states" such as North Korea and Iran. But a decade after it was declared operational, and after $40 billion in spending, the missile shield cannot be relied on, even in carefully scripted tests that are much less challenging than an actual attack would be, a Los Angeles Times investigation has found.
"The system is not reliable," said a recently retired senior military official who served under Presidents Obama and Bush. "We took a system that was still in development - it was a prototype - and it was declared to be 'operational' for political reasons. At that point, you couldn't argue anymore that you still needed to develop and change things. You just needed to build them."
After that, McCain wants the Obama administration to reverse its decision to scuttle missile defense plans for Eastern Europe, plans that Putin objected to strongly. The Obama administration claimed that its decision to scrap the plans was not a concession to Russia, but it came at a time when Obama wanted to work with Russia on further reducing nuclear-weapon stockpiles. Such cooperation now seems far-fetched.
One of the staunchest advocates for speedily expanding the system has been Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, where missile-defense jobs are heavily concentrated. Sessions, the senior Republican on the Senate subcommittee responsible for missile defense, has fought moves to slow the production of the rockets and has warned repeatedly about what North Korea or Iran might do. Alabama's other senator, Richard C. Shelby - the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee - has also sought to deflect concerns about the test failures and the program's cost. "We're interested in cost," Shelby said at an appropriations subcommittee hearing on July 17, 2013. "We're also interested in defending this country." Though both North Korea and Iran have launched crude unarmed missiles, U.S. intelligence assessments provided to Congress indicate that neither country has the capability to deliver a long-range, nuclear-tipped missile to the United States.