National Missile Defense Technology Still Falls Short
by Lt. General Robert Gard
The United States has been attempting to develop a workable national missile defense capability since 1944, prompted initially by German V-2 ballistic missile attacks in Europe during World War II. The most recent initiative is the ground-based midcourse defense system, referred to as GMD, intended to defend against a limited attack by one or two intercontinental ballistic missiles launched by a rogue state, specifically North Korea or Iran.
In 1995, a U.S. national intelligence estimate stated that no country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, would develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the next 15 years that could threaten the contiguous 48 states and Canada.
Nevertheless, a congressionally mandated independent commission, chaired by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, issued a report in July 1998 that was more consistent with alarming assumptions held by advocates of national missile defense. It concluded that North Korea and Iran could develop the capability to strike the United States within five years of a decision to pursue ballistic missile technology.
This was reinforced by Iran’s launch two weeks later of the Shahab-3 missile, with a range of 1,000 kilometers, and by North Korea’s launch the following month of a Taepo Dong 1 missile with a solid fueled third stage booster.
In January 1999, Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced full funding for development of a national missile defense system, with potential deployment in 2005. Congress then passed the National Missile Defense Act, which was signed by the president in July 1999. It says it is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an “effective” missile defense system.
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