North Korea has Nuclear Missiles, Iran is about to get them, and we have a President who promises that "after [his] election" he will have more "flexibility" on missile defense -- that should make you feel safe!
September 11, 2012
N.Y. Times News Service
U.S. Missile Defense Strategy Is Flawed, Expert Panel Finds
After two years of study, a panel of top scientists and military experts working for the National Research Council
has concluded that the nation’s protections against missile attacks
suffer from major shortcomings, leaving the United States vulnerable to
some kinds of long-range strikes.
In a report, the panel suggested that President Obama shift course by
expanding a system he inherited from President George W. Bush and by
setting aside the final part of an antimissile strategy he unveiled in
2009. In so doing, the panel said, the president could set up the
nation’s defenses to better defeat the kinds of long-range missiles that
Iran may be developing. [Isn't this just a great
time for a President who has promised that "after [his] next election"
he can be more "flexible" on ballistic missile defense? Remember, this
is a President who has already been so "flexible" that he cancelled
missile defense installations scheduled to be installed on the soil of
two of our allied nations without consulting them, on "suggestions" from
Russia and with no "tit for tat" in return!]
It is the first time that the research council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, has weighed in on the nation’s overall plans for defeating missile attacks.
Chartered by Congress to give scientific and technical advice to the
government, the council is considered to be the nation’s preeminent
group of scientists. The 16-person panel consists of scientists,
engineers and weapons experts from universities, research groups and
national laboratories, including one in Livermore, Calif., that deals
with nuclear arms.
Philip E. Coyle III, a former national security official in the Obama
White House and a former director of weapons testing at the Pentagon,
said the panel’s report exposed a system that should be rebuilt from top
to bottom, adding that the antimissile complex was geared toward
“producing and fielding hardware” rather than actually devising ways to
deflect enemy attacks.
The Pentagon wrote off the report as pedestrian. Richard Lehner of the
Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon that erects the
ground-based interceptors, called the panel’s alarm bells about the
system’s limitations “an old story” and the need to focus more on enemy
countermeasures unsurprising and “totally logical.”
In its highly technical, 260-page report,
the panel recommended an overhaul that would make the antimissile
system “far more effective,” including adding new sensors and
interceptor rockets, as well as an additional base in Maine or upstate
New York from which interceptors could be fired. The nation’s two
existing bases are in California and Alaska. The report called the plan
affordable, saying it could fit within current antimissile spending —
which runs about $10 billion a year — if the military eliminated what
the panel described as costly and unneeded systems, like a $28 billion
constellation of satellites meant to track enemy warheads.
The assessment is a major blow to Mr. Obama’s strategy of playing down
the long-range defenses he inherited from Mr. Bush and focusing instead
on defenses in Europe against shorter-range Iranian missiles. He
articulated the shift in September 2009, calling the envisioned system
“stronger, smarter and swifter.”
But the report, released Tuesday, faulted the results. It said the
domestic defenses in place could probably handle crude missiles fired
from North Korea, but nothing more sophisticated. It called the current
generation of antimissile arms “fragile” and full of “shortcomings that
limit their effectiveness against even modestly improved threats.”
Mr. Obama’s European shift is still a work in progress, and the report
gave it conditional approval provided that the technical advances
planned for the next six years, like improved sensors and interceptor
rockets, actually materialize. But it recommended that the plan’s final
phase — intended to protect the United States from long-range Iranian
missiles — be scrapped in favor of the stronger domestic system.
In short, the panel would undo part of Mr. Obama’s shift and strengthen
Mr. Bush’s antimissile approach, creating more of a hybrid.
The report comes as worries rise over Iran’s nuclear program and fears
take hold that Tehran might one day decide to develop warheads for its
rapidly growing fleet of missiles. Today, Iran’s missiles are short and
medium range. The report looks ahead a decade or more to what it calls
the “likely development” of Iranian missiles designed to rain warheads
down on the United States.
Since the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan began the modern hunt for
defenses against long-range missiles, Washington has spent more than
$200 billion devising ways to hit incoming enemy warheads that move at
speeds in excess of four miles per second. Critics have long faulted the
goal as delusional, saying that any country smart enough to make
intercontinental ballistic missiles could also make simple
countermeasures sure to foil any defense.
In a nod to critics, the new report identifies enemy countermeasures as
the main challenge for the domestic system, with many of its
recommendations aimed at improving ways to distinguish between decoys
and real warheads.
“For too long, the U.S. has been committed to expensive missile defense
strategies without sufficient consideration of the costs and real
utility,” said L. David Montague, the panel’s co-chairman and a retired
president of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space. The Pentagon must
strengthen its technical analyses, he added, so it “can better evaluate
new initiatives.” Mr. Montague, an engineer by training, is an
independent consultant and one of the few members of the panel whose
roots lie in the defense industry.
It was 2002 when Mr. Bush announced plans to deploy a limited system
designed to protect the United States from missile attacks. Today, the
rudimentary system consists of 30 ground-based interceptors in Alaska
and California. They are designed to zoom into space and destroy enemy
warheads by force of impact.
In September 2009, Mr. Obama switched the focus from protecting the
continental United States to defending Europe and the Middle East from
short- and medium-range Iranian missiles. New intelligence, he said, had
made Tehran’s more modest accomplishments the more pressing threat.
The report called for developing a new generation of interceptor rockets
that would be smaller and more capable, as well as five new radars at
existing early warning sites. The panel said these radars, combined with
sensors aboard the interceptors, would provide more time to identify
enemy warheads and shoot at them repeatedly if the first shots failed.
The East Coast site, the report said, would require 50 of the new
interceptors — 30 for operations and 20 for testing and evaluation.
On Tuesday, a number of experts faulted the new plan. Theodore A.
Postol, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a
prominent antimissile critic, called the calculations behind the
proposed radars “completely wrong and unrealistic.” He continued,
“They’re claiming they can do things that are not physically possible.”
Tom Z. Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association,
a private group in Washington, said the report made clear that the
current domestic interceptors are woefully deficient and that developing
new ones for an East Coast site “might take a decade or more.”
At a news conference Tuesday, Mr. Montague defended the report and said
the large panel had its own skeptics and proponents. “What we’ve agreed
on,” he said, “is what we said in the report.”
Outside critics, he added, tended to overstate the skills of enemies of
the United States seeking to build long-range missiles to develop ways
to foil defenses. People in the aerospace industry who have made
countermeasures for the warheads of United States missiles, Mr. Montague
said, “know it’s not as simple as a PowerPoint chart.”
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