As you may have heard, a July 5 flight intercept test of the ground based midcourse defense (GMD) system failed to hit its target. The Missile Defense Agency has yet to announce what caused the miss.
The failed test has apparently not shaken the Pentagon’s confidence in GMD’s capabilities. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little stated that “We believe that we have a robust missile defense architecture in place and we are in a position to respond to any threat that emanates from North Korea.” He added: “Our faith in our missile defense program remains strong and every healthy organization takes stock of mishaps when they occur and that’s what we’re doing now.”
So strong is the Missile Defense Agency’s faith in the system that it is apparently selling patches commemorating the test, though it appears they only come in packs of 50 for $400.
Pasted below are comments on the failed test from Phil Coyle, the former Pentagon chief weapons tester and Associate Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology. He is currently a Senior Science Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
-This is another big setback for the MDA and means that there have been NO successful GMD flight intercept test in the last five years, that is, since the end of 2008. Two tests failed in 2010 and then, until today, MDA hadn’t tried again, only to have another failure. Zero successes out of three tries is Zero percent.
-Since early December 2002, a little over 10 years, 10 GMD flight intercept tests have been attempted. The record is six failures, three successes, and one unsuccessful test because the target failed to reach the defended area. Three successes in 10 attempts is 30 percent.
-Whether you count the performance over the past five years or the last ten, clearly the GMD system is something the U.S. military, and the American people, cannot depend upon. The idea of deploying 14 more of these same flawed interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska would be throwing good money after bad. And building yet another missile defense site on the U.S. East Coast and deploying more of these same flawed interceptors there would take U.S. taxpayers to the cleaners again.
-In their report last year, the National Research Council warned against deploying more of these flawed interceptors at an East Coast site. Congress should heed this warning and not waste any more money on poor performance.
-Today’s test was of the older CE-I Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) that has performed poorly as noted above. The Pentagon’s decision to move forward with 14 additional interceptors in Alaska is tied to the results of a single, future flight intercept test of the newer but still unproven CE-II EKV scheduled for late this year. However, the National Research Council recommended that the MDA develop a faster new booster and more capable EKV instead of either the CE-I or CE-II.”
For more background on the GMD test, see George Lewis’ excellent and informative take here. Lewis speculates that the test may have been “the fourth attempt to intercept a target using ‘countermeasures.'”