Missile Defense’s Proponents

Last week I flagged a severe drubbing that missile defense took at a Congressional Oversight Subcommittee hearing. In the interests of fair play, I thought I should link to a hearing that took place the following day at the House Armed Services Committee, where missile defense proponents from the DoD, including Missile Defense Agency head Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, testified on its behalf. The kindest thing I can find to say about missile defense, globally speaking, is that the advances made in short- and midrange in-theater defense technologies (the Patriot and Aegis systems, for instance) seem promising and worth pursuing.

The major flaw, to my mind, is still the rush to deploy the Groundbased Midcourse Defense system designed to protect the mainland U.S. and eventually Europe against ICBM’s. Lt. Gen. Obering’s presentation (.pdf) does little to dispel the sense that the logic on which the spiral development and capability-based aquisition program is based is structurally flawed. It’s a logic that leads to priceless gems like this:

We are requesting about $1.7 billion for FY 2009 to expand the defense of the United States to include limited Iranian long-range threats.

Now, keeping in mind the fact that the “limited Iranian long-range threats” do not yet exist, the obvious question becomes, What “defense of the United States” are we expanding on? I suppose it could be the defense against limited N. Korean long-range threats, but they, too, don’t yet exist. What, then, is the system that Obering calls “operational” actually defending us against now? Well, unless you consider the carefully scripted test targets it has faced to date, the answer is, Nothing.

The boondoggle here is not so much in the testing of the system, although all the expert testimony I’ve seen concludes that it will never be sufficiently invulnerable to direct attack and countermeasures to make it worth the investment. The real issue is the rush to deploy, which has financial and strategic costs disproportionate to the advantages it offers.