WASHINGTON - The multibillion-dollar U.S.
ballistic missile shield due to start operating by Sept. 30
appears incapable of shooting down any incoming warheads, an
independent scientists' group said on Thursday.
A technical analysis found "no basis for believing the
system will have any capability to defend against a real
attack," the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a 76-page
report titled Technical Realities.
The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency rejected the report.
"It will provide a defense against incoming missiles for
the first time in this country's history," said Richard Lehner,
an agency spokesman.
The Pentagon's initial deployment involves 10 interceptor
missiles in silos in Alaska and California. It is designed to
protect all 50 U.S. states against a limited strike from North
Korean missiles that could be tipped with nuclear, chemical or
Boeing Co. is assembling the shield, which would use the
interceptors to launch "kill vehicles" meant to pulverize
targets in the mid-course of their flight paths, outside the
Earth's atmosphere. Using infrared sensors, the vehicles would
search the chill of space for the warheads. So far, the
interceptors have scored hits five times in eight highly
The Missile Defense Agency "appears to be picking numbers
out of thin air," the report said of past Pentagon assertions
of a high probability of shooting down targets.
"There is no data to justify such an assumption," added the
scientists' group, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Its findings dovetailed with an audit last month by Congress's
General Accounting Office that said the system's effectiveness
would be "largely unproven" when the initial capability goes on
DANGEROUS POLICY IMPLICATIONS
Even unsophisticated countermeasures that could be mounted
by countries such as North Korea remain an unsolved problem for
midcourse defenses against long-range missiles, the scientists'
Balloon decoys could be given the same infrared signature
as a warhead by painting their surfaces, it said. The project
could also be confused by sealing the warhead in a large
balloon so the kill vehicle could not determine its exact
location or tethering several balloons to it.
Overstating the defensive capabilities of the ground-based
defense is dangerous, the group said.
"If the president is told that the system could reliably
defend against a North Korean ballistic missile attack, he
might be willing to accept more risks when making policy and
military decisions," the report said.
"All indications are that it would not work," added Lisbeth
Gronlund, a physicist who is a co-author of the report and
co-director of the group's global security program.
"And the administration's statements that it will be highly
effective are irresponsible nonsense," she added in a telephone
Overall, the Pentagon estimates it will need $53 billion in
the next five years to develop, field and upgrade a
multilayered shield also involving systems based at sea, aboard
modified Boeing 747 aircraft and in space.
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