October 18, 2004
Anti-missile network draws criticism
The military is in the final stages of readying its national ballistic missile-defense system, with officials predicting it will be activated before the end of the year. But several questions remain unresolved, including how well the experimental missile interceptors work.
The Pentagon maintains that any defense against ICBMs is better than none, but critics challenge that the Bush administration is vastly overselling an expensive, unproven defense system.
There has been an expectation that the administration will shortly declare to the world that the missile-defense system is operational and on alert, but military officials said they know of no specific plans for such an announcement.
An announcement, however, would have both political and strategic value for the Bush administration.
To those who believe it will work, activating the system would fulfill a pledge by President Bush to have an operational missile-defense system by the end of 2004. Such an announcement would also have greater value if it came before the Nov. 2 elections.
Bush has touted the system while campaigning for re-election.
“We want to continue to perfect this system, so we say to those tyrants who believe they can blackmail American and the free world, ‘You fire; we’re going to shoot it down,’” he said in a stop at Ridley Park, Pa., recently.
Military officials are less sanguine, stressing that the initial system will be modest and limited in capability but will improve over time.
Critics of the system, like Philip Coyle, the Pentagon’s former chief of testing, say Bush is flat wrong.
“Of course we don’t have any capability to do that,” he said. “For the president to sort of dare them [to fire missiles] is really misleading and even reckless.”
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry has said he would proceed more slowly with the missile-defense system if elected, taking time for additional testing.
Estimates vary widely on how much the program will cost over its lifetime, with some reaching $100 billion or more. In 2004 and 2005, the Missile Defense Agency expects to spend a total of more than $10 billion.
Many of the doubts about the system, initially designed to protect the United States from an ICBM attack from North Korea and other possible threats in the western Pacific, arise from problems during high-profile tests.
In testing, which critics deride as highly scripted, the interceptors have gone five-for-eight when launched at target missiles. But two tests scheduled for this year have been delayed due to recently discovered technical problems. The next test is scheduled for late November or early December, so it is unclear if it will take place before interceptors in Alaska go on alert. The test after that will take place sometime in early 2005.
The system, even when activated, will still be classified as an experimental testbed that can be used in a real-world crisis.
At present, the military has five interceptors in underground silos at Fort Greely in central Alaska, with plans to add one more by mid-October and another 10 by the end of 2005. Two interceptors will be put in the ground at a backup site, Vandenburg Air Force Base, Calif., in the next month, plus two more by the end of the next year.
A tracking radar on the Aleutian island of Shemya, and an early warning radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., are both ready, as are command centers at Colorado Springs, Colo., and at Fort Greely, said Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency.
The destroyer Curtis Wilbur started patrolling the Sea of Japan with a newly upgraded Aegis radar capable of tracking North Korean missile launches and feeding information into the missile-defense network.
But some of these various pieces of the system are not yet linked to one another, Lehner said. He and other officials could not provide a specific time when the system will be ready.
A major piece of the sensor network, an X-band radar system that will be mounted on a converted oil-drilling rig, is not expected to be ready for operational testing until the end of next year.
The high-resolution radar, which the military claims will be capable of discriminating targets from decoys far better than others in the sensor network, will be mounted on a mobile, converted oil-drilling rig and will move to the Pacific and join the system. A new network of early-warning satellites would also substantially boost the military’s ability to track a ballistic missile launch, officials say.
Also unsettled is the military’s doctrine and authorities for launching the interceptors in a crisis — although such policies are expected to be decided on during the next few weeks.
Because an intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Asia could reach the United States in less than half an hour, military officers may have to make quick decisions if an attack is underway. Such doctrine is intended to assist what the general in charge should do if, for example, the number of inbound missiles exceeded the number of interceptors available.
On the strategic end, Pentagon officials say they expect the existence of the system would serve to deter North Korea from using ICBMs to attack, because the country’s leaders would calculate their chance of successfully hitting a U.S. target as lower.
North Korea, which intelligence officials believe has an untested intercontinental ballistic missile, is regarded as the most immediate threat.
In the longer term, Iran could develop missiles capable of reaching the United States, officials say.
A radar in Great Britain, once it is upgraded in 2005, will allow Alaskan-based interceptors to target missiles launched from the Mideast across Europe toward North America, officials have said. In August, the Bush administration also signed an agreement with Denmark and Greenland to upgrade a radar station at Thule, Greenland, which also will be a part of an Atlantic missile defense sensor network.
In addition, the Pentagon is in preliminary talks with Poland and possibly other Eastern European countries about the possibility of putting interceptors there. These could protect Europe, as well as intercept U.S.-bound missiles earlier in flight.
China, meanwhile, which also has a small ICBM force — perhaps 20 missiles, according to intelligence estimates — has been fairly quiet about U.S. missile-defense plans, Pentagon officials say. China, however, is modernizing and expanding its missile force beyond what near-term U.S. plans for missile defenses could stop.
— The Associated Press
October 18, 2004
Missile shield program starts with Curtis Wilbur
Amid heightened concerns of a North Korean missile test, a U.S. destroyer has started patrolling the Sea of Japan in what officials say is a first step toward creating a shield to protect the United States and its allies from a foreign missile attack.
Navy officials refused to comment on details of the destroyer Curtis Wilbur’s mission for security reasons.
The other two 7th Fleet destroyers assigned to the mission, the Fitzgerald and the John S. McCain, remain in port at Yokosuka Naval Base.
The patrols are an initial step toward fulfilling a promise President Bush made two years ago to erect a ballistic missile shield that would protect the United States, its allies and its troops abroad from attack.
Bush cleared the way for the system by withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned ship-based missile defenses. He’s called the plan one of his administration’s top priorities.
Critics, however, say such a shield would be too complex to be effective. It’s estimated to cost $51 billion over the next five years.
Starting the program in the Pacific underscores Washington’s increasing concern over North Korea’s suspected development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles capable of reaching Alaska or perhaps even western mainland states.
Under the plan, the ships will carry out long-range searches and tracking of missile activity.
Eventually, data gleaned by the ships would be transmitted to Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where, if necessary, interceptor missiles would be launched. The interceptors won’t be fully deployed at the American bases until next year.
— The Associated Press
That question has been answered (based on existing data) - we just don't share it with reporters.
It's like the reporters don't even read their own newspapers.
They have reported on how well the PUBLIC test firings have gone, right now I think it's 2 for 3.
We have been pulling 24 hour shifts for a couple of weeks.
The soldiers are ready to go.
Waiting on the big man to give us the word.
LOL That's true I didn't even consider the public sources.
But how well a system works is based on alot more than how than the missle works in a few tests. There are subsystem reliablities, communications system reliabilities, and the abilities of the people are considered.
The analysis of the 'systems' reliability can get complex. The reporter's just got their panties in a wad because they aren't allowed to view the report.
I gotta love the AP. They are just a Kerry mouthpiece. This is yet another system required for the defense of the US that Kerry opposes.
Of course the tests are scripted, you don't launch ICBMs or things designed to look like ICBMs without planning it out and informing those who may get upset about random missile launches.
And all of the other criticisms are pretty lame to. Just how many tests are we willing to pay for?
Those who live their lives dominated by fear, do not have the courage to face their fear and invariably deamonize those who do.