Taking Ownership of Missile Defense?

Back in my salad days at UCLA, it was practically a prerequisite for us feminists to attend “Take Back the Night” rallies. Take ownership, and you could ostensibly take control.

So I read with interest the comments made by the chair of the Defense Science Board, William Schneider (right). Schneider’s most vivid pronouncement on missile defense to date ended up scaring the bejesus out of Congress and most of the United States’ allies, when in spring 2002 he suggested that the United States again look into nuclear-tipped missile defense interceptors.

This week’s missile defense statement was slightly less incendiary yet still indicative of how out of touch much of this administration is when it comes to missile defense.

Congress needs to take “ownership” of missile defense programs, according to Schneider. Looking at the $10 billion-plus budgeted for missile defense this fiscal year, or at the two flight test failures in a row for the interceptors fielded in Alaska and California, or at the egregious schedule slips and cost growth of the various programs, that’s an idea long in coming. Someone’s got to hold the Missile Defense Agency accountable, or at least try to stem back some of the Pentagon’s golden child’s excesses.

Except that’s not what he meant.

Schneider explained to InsideDefense.com (“DSB Chairman: Congress Must Take ‘Ownership’ of Missile Defense Policy,” Nov. 29, 2005) that members of Congress need to include missile defense programs in their tactical planning when determining defense budgets. This would imply that missile defense programs have done such a stellar job in their developmental and operational testing that you can just order up, say, 100 PAC-3 interceptors and be certain that they’ll show up, be ready for deployment, and earn your complete and utter trust in their efficacy. Just like an aircraft carrier or any other regular cog in the American fighting machine.

The truth is, unless Schneider has another set of missile defense programs tucked away somewhere, the debate is not over: missile defense still has to prove itself. Until then, it hasn’t earned the right to be included in assessments of the U.S. military’s arsenal.

Just to pull out one example is the PAC-3’s Nov. 11 flight test failure.

Also amusing are the credibility with which he endows missile defense’s feeble performance to date:

In the 21st century, missile defense will have a larger role in U.S. nonproliferation policy by dissuading countries from obtaining ballistic missile technologies, Schneider said. This will be important, he added, because over the next 25 years the cost to produce ballistic missiles will drop significantly.

Another important role missile defense can play is persuading allied countries to develop defensive and not offensive measures to thwart weapons of mass destruction, Schneider said. “It is not in [America’s] interest to have allies obtain WMD to counter WMD,” he said. “It will be important for the U.S. to provide missile defense.”

Seems that the United States would be better off by putting less of an emphasis on its own WMD programs (cough, Reliable Replacement Warhead, cough). Guess it’s a case of do as we say, not as we do.

But it’s the final paragraph that’s the most intriguing:

One of the consequences of the Bush administration’s push to get a ground-based missile defense system fielded late last year was an imbalance in MDA’s budget, with more money going toward procurement accounts and less for research and development, he said. “That should shift as the services pick up [responsibility] for some of these systems,” he added.

Er, no, it wasn’t the services fault that so much money wasn’t being spent on R&D. Try an overeager administration anxious to fulfill a campaign pledge.

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