Arms control advocates questioned the logic of Republican lawmakers regarding missile defense spending.
“Representative McKeon is asking for more money for a system that hasn’t had a successful flight test in three-plus years,” Kingston Reif, nuclear nonproliferation director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, told GSN. “So far there’s been no indication that more money will help the Missile Defense Agency fix the problems that caused the most recent flight test failures faster.”
Overall, there have been eight successful intercept tests using ground-based interceptors in 16 flight tests since 1999. According to O’Reilly’s March testimony, the agency will look to address the most recent failures by conducting a nonintercept flight test in July using upgraded technology. Hoping to have corrected any problems, the agency would then try a more challenging intercept test by the end of the year.
However, given the cost and technical difficulties associated with the ground-based defense system, the United States should rely instead on more cost-effective, test-proven interceptors such as the Standard Missile 3, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told GSN.
In addition to being cheaper and more reliable, the interceptors offer greater versatility as they do not require the construction of stationary missile silos, but rather can be launched from mobile vehicles such as the Navy’s Aegis destroyers, Kimball said. The SM-3 is designed primarily to defend against short and medium-range missiles, as opposed to long-range weapons, but North Korea has demonstrated that it “obviously can’t put together” a successful long-range ballistic missile program in the near future, Kimball said.
Some advocates of a scaled-back missile defense program are not optimistic that North Korea’s most recent failure will dramatically change the nature of debate in Washington. Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, predicted the ground-based deterrence system will continue to enjoy support from its political backers.
“This is a religion to them,” Cossa said. “All the facts in the world will not deter them.”
Turner defended the reliability of the U.S. ground-based defense system, however, arguing that the first-generation kill vehicle, known as Capability Enhancement No. 1, “is proven and works,” and that much of the problems have been associated with the second generation, known as Capability Enhancement No. 2.
According to Lehner, however, only eight of the 14 intercept tests conducted on the first-generation vehicle have been successful. The second generation has been tested twice and failed both times.
O’Reilly addressed the distinction between the two generations in 2011 testimony to Congress. The agency began developing the second generation “in 2005 based on obsolescence reasons -- parts manufacturers and so forth, not producing parts anymore that in the electronic systems,” O’Reilly said.
While the second generation has failed in tests, “most of the missiles … deployed today are the earlier version,” according to O’Reilly, and the agency continues “to have confidence in the system based on the data we’ve seen.”