When the collision with the mock intercontinental ballistic missile occurred on Tuesday afternoon, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency was filled with excitement and relief. The first full intercept test in three years of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system was deemed a success. Some proponents of the program have presented the test as proof that the $40 billion system is capable of defending the United States against long-range missiles that could, in the future, be launched by a rogue nation like North Korea.
The larger context, however, tells a very different story. Of the 10 tests of the system since 2004, when the Bush administration prematurely declared it operational, six have failed to destroy the target, including three of the last five tries.