10/08/2005

White House May Reconsider Missile Defense Approach

White House May Reconsider Missile Defense Approach

By David Ruppe
Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON — After spending years and billions of dollars to develop and deploy ground-based missile interceptors, the Bush administration appears to be reconsidering its leading approach to defending the U.S. homeland against enemy ICBMs, a key congressional committee said last week (see GSN, Oct. 4).

While the U.S. Missile Defense Agency continues to seek billions to develop and deploy the interceptors — including as many as 40 in silos in Alaska by the end of 2007 and some in Europe after that — it appears to have abandoned ambitions for significantly improving the current system and to favor other approaches, the Senate Appropriations Committee said in a report accompanying its version of the fiscal 2006 defense appropriations bill.

“After many years of investment in this midcourse interceptor, MDA has now essentially decided that the first generation GBI [ground-based interceptors] will also be its last generation GBI. This approach would fail to capitalize on the years of previous investment and technology development in a decreasing budgetary environment,” it said in a lengthy critique.

The language was drafted by the committee’s defense subcommittee chaired by Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Allegedly Abandoning Upgrades

The agency’s “spiral development” approach to developing missile defense, uncommon to military weapons development, is to field systems before they are fully developed and then make upgrades or field improved systems in two-year cycles as technological development progresses.

In its report, the committee said the agency plans no further spiral development for the interceptor currently being deployed and is seeking to separate it from other parts of the midcourse intercept program, which includes advanced radars and command and control.

“MDA at best plans only marginal improvements to the capability of the GMD [Ground-based Midcourse Defense] program’s ground-based interceptor,” the committee said. It cited a statement by a senior Defense Department official at a Jan. 28 briefing that the agency would “not pursue major booster or kill vehicle upgrades” for the interceptors.

The committee report directs the agency to fully develop and upgrade the system, in conjunction with related sensors and command and control systems, until they are in “a final stable configuration.” Lawmakers also demanded a report by Dec. 1 on a plan for carrying out the directive.

A spokesman said the agency would not comment on the report’s points until after the appropriations bill is finalized later this fall.

A critic of the administration’s missile defense policies suggested the committee’s language reflects a struggle between politics and science.

“It appears the agency has come to recognize the limitations of this system and what [the committee is] trying to say is that they don’t want them to,” said Philip Coyle, a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information and a former top Pentagon testing official.

The system’s “proponents are concerned about this and they’re trying to get MDA’s attention,” he said.

A pullback from the spiral development of ground-based interceptors would reflect the military’s “extremely low confidence in the system,” said University of Maryland arms control analyst Jeffrey Lewis, noting the midcourse defense system was not activated last year despite a December deadline.

NTI: Global Security Newswire - Friday, October 7, 2005

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