Key U.S. Brass: Any Failure in Next Missile Defense Test Won’t Sink Effort

Spectators gather in December 2010 near Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to watch an ultimately unsuccessful test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system's ability to intercept a ballistic missile target. Another intercept test of the system is planned for June.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
May 30, 2014, 10:11 a.m.

A seni­or U.S. of­ficer says if an up­com­ing mis­sile-in­ter­cept test res­ults in a re­peat fail­ure, it still would not likely spell doom for the pro­gram.

Adm. James Win­nefeld, vice chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his own best guess is that the planned June test of the Ground-based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem will be suc­cess­ful. Were the test deemed a fail­ure, “I don’t think it’ll be a shot in the head [to the pro­gram], but it de­pends on the fail­ure mode if it were to fail,” he said.

The Ground-based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem is the coun­try’s prin­cip­al de­fense against a lim­ited stra­tegic bal­list­ic mis­sile at­tack. However, the sys­tem has not had a suc­cess­ful in­ter­cept test, des­pite re­peated at­tempts, since 2008. After con­duct­ing an ex­tens­ive tech­nic­al ana­lys­is in­to the reas­ons be­hind the re­cent test fail­ures, the Pentagon’s Mis­sile De­fense Agency is plan­ning to put the tech­no­logy through an­oth­er in­ter­cept tri­al in June.

“If it is a suc­cess, can­didly, it will be a very good shot in the arm for the pro­gram, and we will re­sume pro­duc­tion on 14 more in-pro­gress mis­siles,” said Win­nefeld dur­ing a Wed­nes­day con­fer­ence hos­ted by the At­lantic Coun­cil in Wash­ing­ton. He was re­fer­ring to ad­di­tion­al Ground Based In­ter­cept­ors the Pentagon has ordered placed in Alaska by the end of fisc­al 2017 as a coun­ter­meas­ure against the threat of North Korea’s nuc­le­ar mis­sile pro­gram.

“I per­son­ally don’t think it’s go­ing to fail, and I per­son­ally think that any fail­ure that does oc­cur, we will get through just as we have in the past,” the vice chair­man said.

The test will in­volve a Ground Based In­ter­cept­or launched from Vanden­berg Air Force Base, Cal­if., and a “tar­get mis­sile” fired from Kwa­jalein Atoll in the Mar­shall Is­lands, ac­cord­ing to MDA spokes­man Rick Lehner. A second-gen­er­a­tion kill vehicle, the so-called “CE-2” mod­el, will be used in the test. No test date will be provided un­til five to sev­en days pri­or to the planned tri­al, the spokes­man told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire.

The CE-2 vehicle had a suc­cess­ful non-in­ter­cept flight test in early 2013.

“The last CE-2 that we fired, ad­mit­tedly not against a tar­get, but put­ting it through its paces “¦ was very suc­cess­ful, and I be­lieve it would have hit a tar­get if it was go­ing against one that day,” Win­nefeld said.

The Ground-Based Mid­course De­fense sys­tem cur­rently com­prises 30 GBI mis­siles de­ployed in two states — Cali­for­nia and Alaska — and a sup­port­ing net­work of sensors that gath­er and re­lay in­form­a­tion about pos­sible stra­tegic bal­list­ic mis­sile threats. Frus­trated with the sys­tem’s re­cent test fail­ings, a key Sen­ate de­fense pan­el moved last week to for­bid the Pentagon from pur­chas­ing any more an­ti­mis­sile units whose tech­no­logy has not been proven through test­ing.

Win­nefeld in his re­marks pushed back against “the nar­rat­ive that mis­sile de­fense needs to be 100 per­cent ef­fect­ive to be suc­cess­ful, es­pe­cially when nuc­le­ar weapons are in­volved,” which he called “a simplist­ic ar­gu­ment.”

Crit­ics of U.S. mis­sile de­fense activ­it­ies point out that the num­ber of nuc­le­ar-armed mis­siles that could strike the United States and its al­lies vastly out­num­bers the num­ber of in­ter­cept­ors avail­able to be launched against them. Skep­tics also note that U.S. an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems have an im­per­fect test­ing track re­cord.

“No sys­tem can achieve per­fec­tion,” Win­nefeld said. “It would be hubris to be­lieve oth­er­wise.”

He noted that de­terrence against nuc­le­ar strikes in­volves a com­bin­a­tion of mis­sile de­fenses — al­beit an im­per­fect sys­tem that might un­wit­tingly let some weapons sneak through — and the threat of massive re­tali­ation.

U.S. mis­sile de­fenses are aimed at in­ject­ing “con­sid­er­able doubt” in­to the minds of op­pon­ents about the abil­ity of their nuc­le­ar weapons to achieve a strike, he said. Ad­di­tion­ally, with the threat of Wash­ing­ton’s nuc­le­ar or con­ven­tion­al re­sponse, “the en­emy knows there will be a sig­ni­fic­ant price to pay with a mis­sile launch against the United States,” Win­nefeld said.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×