Jeffrey LewisMissile Defense Errata

MDA (operating in its little know role as a 527 for the Bush Administration) is sticking interceptors in the frozen tundra of Alaska and calling it a missile defense.

Not that the thing works: MDA has delayed the next flight test, most recently scheduled for September, due to software problems. MDA hasn’t managed to stage an intercept flight test since December 2002—when they missed. MDA hasn’t hit anything since March 2002, two and one-half years ago. Undaunted, MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry A. “Trey” Obering III said the latest setback “will not affect plans to begin operating the system in the next month or two.” Um, you guys haven/’t hit anything since Ricky Martin’s She Bangs was in the top ten.

The problems with the BMDS are getting some press attention lately: See “Pentagon’s Booster Project Veered Off Course Program Illustrates Difficulties in Pursuing Workable Missile Defense System” in the Washington Post and “Missile Defense: Mission Unaccomplished: When will Bush stop throwing billions at a failing project?” in Slate. The Union of Concerned Scientists also put out a fact sheet, in advance of the (now delayed) stand-up of the system entitled “Mission Not Accomplished: Missile Defense Slated for 2004 Deployment Ignores Technical Reality.”

But these suggest missile defense is merely wasteful. The real case against deploying a system that doesn/’t work was recently made by the Arms Control Association’s Wade Boese, who has a great op-ed in Defense News that unfortunately requires a subscription.

Responding to the “something is better than nothing” argument, Wade runs some offense:

The BMDS “might be worse than nothing, if it imbues policymakers and Americans with a false sense of security.” He points to a bit of braggadacio—Bush told a Pennsylvania audience that potential adversaries know “You fire, we’re going to shoot it down”—as part of a disturbing trend by Administration officials to exaggerate the effectiveness of the system.

Bush isn’t alone. Undersecretary E.C. Aldridge told Congress that he believed the system would “would perform with 90 percent effectiveness against a missile launched by North Korea.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) nearly choked, suggesting that he take another look at the classified number. Apparently, however, MDA is sticking to the Aldridge line—several officials told the Post that the classifed estimate was “greater than 80 percent.”

The false notion that a reliable defense exists may lead U.S. policy-makers to act more aggressively and recklessly against a missile-armed foe. Misplaced faith could reduce U.S. enthusiasm for pursuing more effective policies to stem the spread of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

Imagine that: A system that makes Bush a bigger cowboy. Yee-haw.

Giddyup! Who wants to love some freedom?