Pentagon Study Lambasts Missile Defense Agency
"New Pentagon Report Slams Missile Defense Agency"
by Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund,
and Victoria Samson, Senior Analyst at the Center for Defense
A new Pentagon study says we need to take the current missile
defense program back to the garage for some serious repairs. The report
should help the next president redirect funds from this $13 billion a
year boondoggle to weapons we need, and get the program back on track.
The study, done for the Pentagon by the Institute of Defense
Analyses and headed by the respected retired General Larry Welch, says
that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA)'s rush to deploy something,
anything, has come at the expense of research and careful development
of weapons that work. It questioned the MDA's ability to maintain and
operate the weapons coming out of its shop and recommended that most of
the programs be handed over to the military as quickly as possible,
demoting MDA back to the research and coordinating body it was before
The study authors carefully crafted the wording of their technical
assessment to soften the devastating impact of the recommendations.
Below, we provide the key findings, with a translation for the rest of
Fly Before We Buy
"While the independent study group agrees that there is a need to
move toward more normal acquisition processes, the need for continuous
evolution of the BMDS [ballistic missile defense system] will require
that the approach to setting requirements for increments of capability
and developing and fielding those increments remain as special
authorities with oversight of the MDEB [Missile Defense Executive
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld exempted missile defense from
the normal Pentagon procurement rules. He argued that a bizarre process
dubbed "spiral development" would allow us to deploy anti-missile
weapons before they were thoroughly tested. They could build a little,
test a little, and improve the weapons down the line. No, says the
board, this is a bad idea. Without clear benchmarks for the weapon and
testing before deployment, how can we ever know if the program has met
its goals? So with this report, IDA indicates that spiral development
is on the way out. While it's still here, the authors say that someone
must establish milestones for the systems' development.
"For mid-course intercept systems, the balance between qualitative
improvements and deploying more of existing capabilities should be
strongly in favor of qualitative improvements."
Specifically, there is no need to build new bases in Poland and the
Czech Republic until we know if the anti-missile systems work.
"Mid-course intercept systems" includes the controversial Ground-based
Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which already has interceptors deployed
in Alaska and California, and a variant of which the United States
wants to put in Europe. Wait, says the board.
Rush to Failure
"The pressures for continued deployments of current capabilities can
have an adverse impact on investments in RDT&E [research,
development, test, and evaluation] needed to increase capability to
deal with a wide range of possible threats. Such a trend toward more
deployments of current capabilities would seriously degrade the ability
to increase the future capability of BMDS."
We must make sure the weapons work before we ramp up production and
give them to the troops. Also known as a rush to failure. 10 years
after another report headed by Gen. Welch warned against doing exactly
this, the United States is still doggedly focused on schedules over
"Before the system enters low-rate production, DOT&E [Director
of Operational Test and Evaluation - the head weapons tester for the
Pentagon] should provide an early operational assessment to USSTRATCOM
for use in the Commander's military utility assessment."
This is probably why MDA has been reluctant to state that its
programs have moved beyond their research and development stages: they
would have to stand up to an outside assessment. Currently, they are in
the eternal haze of spiral development, where they are never really
done being developed and thus can never be held accountable.
The report could have gone deeper into the lack of oversight. The
New York Times recently reported how the lack of oversight allowed
lobbyists and contractors to rip off the government. Two men, cited by
the Times, collected over $1.6 million in kickbacks last year alone.
Take the Kids Out of the Candy Store
Finally, the report says we should transfer the weapons programs
that are already fielded from MDA to the military services. This means
that the services would be responsible for funding and fielding the
systems, allowing them to decide the real-world trade-offs. Which
weapons do the military think they really need, versus the ones
bureaucrats have been pushing?
The weapons include: the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
system, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, Sea-based X-band
Radar, the upgraded early warning radar, the Cobra Dane radar, the
ground-based interceptors for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense
system, and the AN/TPY-2 forward-based X-band radar. The report's
authors believe that this should take no longer than a fiscal year.
Overall, the IDA report is a golden opportunity for the next
president to restore some sanity and fiscal responsibility to a program
plagued by mismanagement and corruption that has deployed weapons that
don't work against threats that don't yet exist.
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