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 »
1.5 MILLION MORE TUNED IN FOR TRUMP
More People Watched Trump’s Acceptance Speech
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

Hillary Clinton hopes that television ratings for the candidates' acceptance speeches at their respective conventions aren't foreshadowing of similar results at the polls in November. Preliminary results from the networks and cable channels show that 34.9 million people tuned in for Donald Trump's acceptance speech while 33.3 million watched Clinton accept the Democratic nomination. However, it is still possible that the numbers are closer than these ratings suggest: the numbers don't include ratings from PBS or CSPAN, which tend to attract more Democratic viewers.

Source:
×