Expert: Missile Defense Test Result is No Reason to Expand Program


Today’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) intercept test result must be analyzed in the broader context: the program’s success rate is just 40 percent since 2004.


Hazel Correa
202.546.0795 x2115

Washington, DC – Today, the Missile Defense Agency announced that its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) speed intercept test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program was a success. GMD seeks a capability to intercept and destroy long-range ballistic missiles aimed at the United States. Unfortunately, the $40 billion system’s successful testing record now stands at just 40 percent since it was declared operational in 2004 despite all tests being highly scripted for success.

GMD’s poor testing record has not deterred some lawmakers from advocating for building and deploying additional interceptors, at an enormous cost.

Philip E. Coyle, a senior science fellow at the Center who formerly headed the Pentagon’s office of operational test and evaluation, commented on the test:

“For the GMD program and the people who have been working on it, having this success was very important. It marks two successes in a row, which is significant, but only two hits out of the last five attempts; that is, only a 40 percent success rate since early 2010. In school, 40 percent isn’t a passing grade. The GMD program has a long way to go.”

In several ways, this test was a $244 million dollar baby step, a baby step that took three years.”

While North Korea is likely years away from developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach the continental United States, Mr. Coyle also noted that GMD is not the solution if North Korea develops one in the future:

“Based on its testing record, we cannot rely upon this missile defense program to protect the United States from a North Korean long-range missile. If anything, overreliance on missile defenses could impede diplomatic efforts that could avoid a dangerous confrontation.”

“The mock enemy target was only barely of ICBM range, and slower than an ICBM from North Korea to Los Angeles would be (if North Korea had a missile of that range, which it doesn’t). The closing velocity, the closure rate between the target and the interceptor also was slower than an intercept would be between a North Korean ICBM and a U.S. interceptor. Higher closing velocity is more challenging because of the very high relative speed, like a faster fast ball in baseball.”


Philip E. Coyle is available for additional comment by contacting Hazel Correa at or +1 202-546-0795 x 2115.

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is a national non-partisan, non-profit dedicated to enhancing peace and security through expert policy analysis and thought-provoking research. Since 1980, the Center’s expertise on reducing the threats of war and nuclear weapons has been sought by the policymakers and the media.