Published on Friday, March 8, 2002 in the Boston Globe
Missile Defense Shenanigans
by Derrick Jackson
AS AMERICA LAYS out the truth about Enron making a Skilling, our attention should also go to other vast sums of money vaporizing into the vacuum of deception. One of them is missile defense. It has been nearly 20 years since President Reagan, playing off the popularity of Luke Skywalker and Captain Kirk, introduced the fictitious Cold War script of hitting incoming Commie missiles. He announced this with great braggadocio, as if the weapons were stamped, ''Uncle Sam says, `I really want you!'''
Many ''Star Wars'' and ''Star Trek'' movies later, the United States is as close to missile defense as it is to cloning a Klingon. The United States has spent more than $70 billion on missile defense up to now. As the World Policy Institute puts it, the nation has tossed this money away ''without producing a single workable device.''
That has not stopped presidents who fear being seen as weak on defense from pushing missile defense down the taxpayers' throats. But if you think $70 billion for 19 years and having as much to show for it as a laid-off Enron employee is bad enough, consider the future. According to January report by the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of missile defense could go much higher.
The CBO estimates that a ground-based missile system would cost between $23 billion and $25 billion through 2015 for a system of 100 interceptors. A ground-based system of 375 missiles would cost between $58 billion and $64 billion. The CBO estimates that a sea-based system of between 245 and 315 missiles carried on destroyers would cost between $43 billion and $55 billion through 2015. The CBO estimates that a space-based laser system would cost between $56 billion and $68 billion by the year 2025.
Some missile defense critics have tried to add this up to a total figure of $238 billion. The CBO said the estimates should not be added together because if there was a combined system of missile defense, the different systems could share a significant amount of resources. Actually, no exaggerations are necessary when the waste and possible fraud are so obvious.
This week, the General Accounting Office released reports that said a 1997 missile test that was claimed to be ''excellent'' and ''highly successful'' by the Pentagon, MIT researchers, and defense contractors Boeing and TRW was marred by serious flaws. Because of too much heat and noise, the sensor on the test interceptor claimed to locate targets that did not exist.
In total, the Pentagon is batting .333 in hitting test attack vehicles - eight of 24 - in the latest tally by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a vocal critic of missile defense. A .333 average is great in baseball but useless when the stakes are the Eastern Seaboard and California.
Most of the eight hits were under conditions that would never occur in a real attack. The Pentagon tweaked the temperature of test attack vehicles to so they could be located by the interceptors. It made test attack missiles larger than what they would really be. It has used beacons, balloons, and flight plans that all but direct attack vehicles into the nose cone of interceptors. The military calls these conditions ''artificialities.'' Another word for that is fiction.
In a nation where grade inflation at Harvard is top news, one would think that the Pentagon's CliffsNotes cribbing on missile defense tests, which costs $100 million a shot, would have flunked out by now. But last week, with the war on Afghanistan in the backdrop, Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Missile Defense Agency, was on Capitol Hill lobbying for an ''aggressive and robust'' program because the threats to the United States are ''continually changing.''
Conventional military threats may be changing, but whether they are actually getting more challenging to the world's only remaining superpower is another story. The latest scapegoats to justify missile defense is President Bush's ''axis of evil'': North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. Our military budget renders them the broken axles of evil. Even if the United States were to settle for the lowest-level $25 billion form of missile defense, that would be five to 61/2 times more than the total military budget of North Korea. It would be four times Iran's total military budget. As for Iraq - please. It already knows what the United States did to it a decade ago in the Gulf War.
Given what a handful of hijackers did to us with passenger planes, it is clear that this fawning over missile defense is like admiring the cathedral ceilings of a 20,000 square-foot-house while termites eat their way up the beams. The partnership of Skilling and Lay lost Enron stockholders upwards of $60 billion. The partnership of the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon has already lost Americans $70 billion on missile defense with the possibility of doubling or tripling that. Enron is now drying up in the heat of public scrutiny. Missile defense is still wheeling and dealing, with no single workable device after 19 years. One day the fictitious tome of missile defense will reduce the collapse of Enron to a summer beach novel.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company