The Administration intends to deploy an initial operating capability of a ground-based strategic ballistic missile defense system (GMD), designed to attack incoming missiles in their mid-course phase of flight, beginning in the summer of 2004. Initial defensive operations will be declared before the end of September of this year.
The current plan calls for completing the installation of 10 interceptor missiles, six at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force base, California, by the end of January 2005. Ten additional interceptors are programmed for deployment at Greely during 2005.
The principal declared purpose of this initial deployment is to defend the U.S. against a limited number of ballistic missiles, armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that may be launched by rogue states .
The test launch in 1998 of a three-stage Taepo-Dong missile, despite the third stage failure, highlighted the threat to the U.S. of long-range ballistic missile proliferation, and led to North Korea’s announcement in late 1999 of a five-year moratorium on missile testing.
Reports from intelligence sources estimate that North Korea is developing both a road-mobile missile, with a range of about 3,400 miles within reach of Japan, a two-stage fixed Taepo-Dong missile that could reach Alaska and Hawaii with heavy payloads, and most of the west coast of the U.S. with lighter payloads. In mid-September 2003, it was reported that North Korea probably is developing a ballistic missile with a range of some 9,000 miles, similar to the three-stage missile tested in 1998, which could reach targets throughout the U.S.
The North Korean nuclear program is currently receiving extensive press coverage. If the plutonium in the previously stored fuel rods has, in fact, been reprocessed, that potentially could add several more nuclear weapons to the two the CIA estimated that North Korea may have produced earlier. Although North Korea has not tested nuclear weapons, it reportedly knows how to detonate them. However, according to current estimates, North Korea is years away from being able to miniaturize nuclear weapons to fit on its long-range missiles.
In early July 2003, Iran successfully tested its Shahab-3 missile, which is mounted on a mobile launcher. The range is estimated to be about 800 miles, with a capability of carrying a warhead of up to one ton; but the missile is believed to have a large circular probable error. Both Turkey and Israel, which has an operational tactical missile defense system, are within range of the Shahab-3.
Although Iran has been working on next generation Shahab-4’s and 5’s, it claims to have suspended their development in favor of upgrading the Shahab-3. Estimates are that Iran is a decade or more away from developing a missile that could hit the U.S., but this period could be shortened if outside assistance is provided.
Iran’s nuclear program, which includes the capability to enrich uranium as well as process small quantities of plutonium, has received substantial press coverage recently. Having denied for years that it was doing so, Iran stated a few months ago that it will cease its 18-year program to enrich uranium; and it has signed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol, which permits intrusive inspections on very short notice.
It does appear that hostile rogue states, especially North Korea, will have the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction by ballistic missile on the U.S., perhaps in the next decade. However, even our obsolescent Defense Support Program satellites are capable of pinpointing the location of a ballistic missile launch. Why would any state, rogue or otherwise, employ a ballistic missile or missiles to deliver a weapon of mass destruction on the U.S., and thereby invite a devastating retaliatory strike? There is no evidence that leaders of rogue regimes, including Korea and Iran, have suicidal tendencies either for themselves or their countries.
Moreover, there is little if any likelihood of terrorists commandeering a ballistic missile, loading a weapon of mass destruction on it, and being able to launch it against the U.S. or our allies; nor would a state run the risk of allowing such a launch from its territory. There are easier and less dangerous ways for terrorists to attack the U.S. with a WMD.
GMD: A COMPLEX OPERATIONAL PROBLEM
The following are the major steps required for a successful mid-course intercept of a ballistic missile:
- The launch must be detected, the heading of the attack missile determined, and the information sent immediately to the command and control component;
- The command and control element must then cue the tracking radar(s) to track the hostile missile or missiles and to provide immediate high quality data to the fire control station, which then develops a battle plan to engage the incoming missile(s);
- Fire control must launch the interceptor missile or missiles. The exoatmospheric kill vehicle(s) (EKV) must then disengage from the booster rocket(s);
- The in-flight interceptor communication system of the fire control component must relay to the EKV updated target information, including discrimination of objects in the target complex, which it receives from the tracking radar(s).
- The EKV then must acquire the incoming warhead(s), track it (them) and discriminate between it (them) and decoys, make final target selection(s) and steer itself (themselves) for hit-to-kill impact. The tracking radar(s) then makes an assessment of the success of the intercept.
The command and control systems, consisting of hardware, software and communication networks, must provide real-time interfaces to integrate the entire GMD complex and to ensure a smooth and rapid transfer of data. The development of the battle management system, which currently employs simulated components, will extend well into the future. Pulling the system together will be an exceptionally difficult task; and realistic operational testing of the composite system is many years away.
THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE OF TRACKING AND DISCRIMINATION
EARLY WARNING (EW) RADARS
As the name suggests, EW radars are designed for prompt detection of a missile launch; they also can determine the heading of the detected missile. The five existing EW radars are relics of the cold war, designed for surveillance to detect launches by the Soviet Union. They require substantial upgrading to communicate effectively with the national missile defense system. Yet intercept tests including upgraded EW radars are not scheduled to begin until the initial operating capability is in place.
The Cobra Dane EW radar, located at Eareckson Air Station, Alaska, is pointed toward the East Russian Peninsula and the North Pacific Ocean. It is the only EW radar that can detect launches from North Korea; but it cannot cover the entire country effectively. An upgrade, currently underway, is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2004.
The EW radar at Beale Air Force Base, California, initially emplaced to detect launches from submarine launched ballistic missiles, is being upgraded; tests are scheduled for the end of calendar 2004. EW radars in Fylingdales, United Kingdom, and Thule, Greenland, can detect launches from Iran and the Middle East; an upgrade of the radar in the UK is scheduled for completion at the end of calendar 2005. The intent of these upgrades is to enhance the detection, tracking and communication capabilities of these radars.
However, since no EW radar can cover all of North Korea effectively and since their target resolution capability is limited, additional radar capability is required. One option is to employ sensors in space.
SPACE-BASED SENSORS — EXISTING CAPABILITY
The constellation of Defense Support Program satellites serves a variety of functions. Their infrared sensors can provide detection of missile launches and the heading of the missiles they detect. However, these satellites employ decades-old technology; and they cannot track missiles beyond their boost phase or discriminate between warheads and decoys. Current plans call for replacement systems.
The programmed sets of replacement satellites initially were called the Space Based Infrared Satellite programs, or SBIRS. The concept is to employ two complexes of orbiting sensor satellites.
With one set of four satellites in geo-synchronous orbit and a second set of two in highly elliptical orbits, SBIRS High is designed to perform the early warning function and predict the likely impact points of attacking missiles. Its cost is estimated to be at least $8 billion.
As of 2002, the two SBIRS High sets of satellites were scheduled for launch in 2004 and 2006 respectively; but the launches are at least two years behind schedule. Realistic operational testing was scheduled for 2007; now it cannot occur before the end of the decade, since the ground component of the system is not scheduled to be ready until 2010. Moreover, since the SBIRS technology already is more than 10 years old, the General Accounting Office (GAO) has recommended that a new plan should be designed.
Formerly called SBIRS Low, the other satellite replacement complex is now named the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, or STSS. The concept is a constellation of 24 to 27 cross-linked low earth-orbiting multi-spectral sensor satellites designed for stereo tracking of incoming missiles and for the difficult task of discriminating warheads from decoys. In its Fiscal Year 2005 Budget Estimate Overview, released in February 2004, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) states that STSS is essential to achieving a global ballistic missile defense system.
The launch of the first of the STSS satellites was scheduled for 2006. Recently, however, the STSS plan was altered substantially. The current plan is to launch an existing pair of test satellites in 2006 and 2008. These two satellites, which are designed to operate for only two years, were built for a system canceled in 1999 due to technical problems and cost over-runs. Now called the “Flight Demonstration System,” the declared purpose of launching these two satellites is to determine the feasibility of mid-course tracking from space.
The STSS program itself has been shifted to a research-oriented approach that will attempt to improve the technology one satellite at a time. MDA intends to award a contract soon to build a new experimental missile tracking satellite that will also be designed to perform the discrimination function. Since the plan is to launch this first experimental satellite near the end of this decade, a production run for an STSS capability is obviously far into the future. Moreover, since the estimated operational life of this type of satellite is only five to seven years, the first several that eventually are launched will likely cease functioning before the set of 24 to 27 is complete.
With the long delay and uncertainty of STSS, another option for providing improved tracking and discrimination capabilities would be to develop and deploy high-powered radars operating in the X-band.
With their short wave length, X-band radars can provide substantially better tracking resolution than the upgraded EW radars; and they probably can discriminate between warheads and simple decoys.
In 2002, the director of MDA characterized a ground-based X-band radar as the “long pole in the tent,” or a key component of GMD, to be located in Shemya, Alaska. It was to serve as the primary radar to provide tracking, fire control support and discrimination. That project was canceled.
Instead, development of a sea-based X-band radar, to be mounted on a modified oil-drilling platform, is underway in Corpus Christie, Texas. The current plan is to locate this radar near Adak Island in the Aleutians. According to Thomas P. Christie, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation of the Department of Defense, this radar will not be available for testing until after 2005. However, lacking even a backup computer, this single X-band is intended to serve solely as a test radar, not an operational asset. Moreover, it is questionable whether it will function effectively in severe sea and wind conditions.
RELIANCE ON L-BAND RADARS
For mid-course tracking, the GMD will be dependent on the upgraded Cobra Dane and Beale radars, augmented marginally by sea-based radars, well into the future. All these radars operate in the L-band, and therefore have poor resolution capabilities. The upgraded EW radars can track the composite target suite, but have only the most rudimentary capability to discriminate between warheads and simple decoys. The less powerful AN/Spy-1 sea-based radar was designed to detect and track cruise missiles, which fly close to the surface of the sea or earth, beginning at a range of only about 20 kilometers. It has a very limited capability to track long-range ballistic missiles and it cannot discriminate between decoys and warheads.
The upgrades of Cobra Dane and Beale will not be completed until the summer of 2004, about the time initial defensive operations will be declared. Yet there are no plans through Fiscal Year 2007 to include these radars in an integrated intercept test to demonstrate that their new software can gather and process data on the location of target missiles, transmit these data in real time to the station that controls and launches interceptors, and contribute even minimally to the key task of discriminating between warheads and simple decoys. A GAO report released in March 2004 states that, even with the software improvements, the upgraded EW radars will be able to provide only a rudimentary analysis of incoming missile threats.
The U.S. Intelligence Council has concluded that countries capable of producing operational long-range missiles can easily design effective countermeasures against ballistic missile interceptors. One example often cited is to wrap warheads and decoys in radar reflective balloons that radiate identical temperatures so that infrared sensors cannot discriminate one from the other.
The discrimination problem was not addressed seriously until very recently. In December 2003, a $210 million four-year contract was awarded for engineering design of targets and countermeasures “that represent capabilities of ballistic missile threats of the type that could be used.” If preliminary designs are approved, the contract will be extended to 10 years, at a cost of $4.6 billion, to develop progressively more complex countermeasures to test how well interceptors can discriminate between warheads and decoys.
The March 2004 GAO report states that “a notable limitation of system [GMD] effectiveness is the inability of system radars to perform rigorous target discrimination,” and that “the kill vehicle itself must perform final target selection.” However, it must be noted that knowledgeable scientists doubt that the problem of mid-course discrimination can be solved effectively in the near term, if ever.
Especially in a highly complex development of a system of systems, an extensive test regime is essential to prove its effectiveness and suitability.
To demonstrate that GMD would function effectively prior to its deployment, the Missile Defense Agency and its predecessor organization responsibly planned 30 developmental and operational intercept tests. While testing failures are to be expected, it is necessary not only to demonstrate that problems causing less than fully successful preliminary tests have been solved, but also to undertake successively more realistic tests.
Of the 10 flight tests that have been completed, eight were intercept tests; five of the eight have been declared successful. However, all five have employed the same unrealistic target missile trajectory, known in advance, and flown at low speed and altitude. The simple target missiles have been rigged with transmitters that exaggerate their signatures to a surrogate transponder/FPQ-14 radar combination for mid-course tracking that employs GPS technology.
Following the deployment decision, nine of the 20 remaining programmed tests have been canceled, and others postponed. One of these, previously scheduled for 2004, would have been the first to place a target missile on a flight path similar to a missile launched from North Korea. The next programmed intercept test, postponed from calendar 2003 to late in calendar 2004, will be the first with a booster rocket designed for the GMD system. The most recent intercept test was conducted in December 2002; it failed.
Technical maturity of system components, normally a precondition for system integration, is considered achieved when prototype hardware with the desired form, fit and function has been proved in a realistic operational environment. The project director for SBIRS has stated that lack of adequate testing of components before they were assembled in that system made it more difficult for him to diagnose and fix problems.
There are laws and regulations that specify operational testing of weapons systems under realistic combat conditions by typical military users to determine their effectiveness and suitability prior to proceeding beyond low rate production and on to operational deployment of the weapon.
To meet the 2004 operating capability deadline, the Pentagon has declared that “capabilities-based management” will govern the development of GMD. To permit deployment of the system prior to operational testing, or even adequate developmental testing, the Secretary of Defense has directed that the GMD program will be conducted in accordance with a process called “spiral development” with “evolutionary acquisition” and “incremental upgrades” of the initial operating capability.
Yet as recently as October 2003, the Pentagon stated that no programs have been approved as spiral development projects, thereby exempting GMD from requirements specified in Fiscal 2003 legislation that call for a development schedule and milestones, including costs, performance parameters, test plans, exit criteria and operational assessments .
GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE’S COMMENTS ON THE GMD TESTING PROGRAM
In a report released in June 2003, the GAO stated that tests of GMD had been conducted under considerable time pressure and conditions far different from those that would be encountered in an actual missile attack. It also noted that the planned initial deployment inevitably “must include components that have not been demonstrated as mature and ready for integration;” and that the program is “in danger of getting off track early and impairing the effort over the long term,” because the system will be will be built with “immature technology and limited testing.”
The GAO issued a supplementary report the following September. It noted that only two of 10 “critical technologies” of GMD components had been demonstrated by adequate developmental testing as “mature,” and that deployment prior to adequate testing runs a high risk that critical technologies will not operate as intended.
The GAO’s March 2004 report states that there are no plans to assess the effects of severe weather conditions on GMD or to conduct flight tests “under unrehearsed and unscripted conditions.” The report also warns that the testing program planned through Fiscal Year 2007 is not designed to address the challenges posed by “unsophisticated” countermeasures that the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation had identified as simple for an enemy to employ. In its discussion of ground testing, the report notes the need for “a comprehensive capability to test … the kill vehicle’s discrimination capability;” but, the report observes, this has been deferred until after 2005. This is important since the kill vehicle is the sole discriminator between warheads and decoys well into the future.
COMMENTS BY THE DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONAL TEST AND EVALUATION ON THE GMD TESTING PROGRAM
In mid-December 2003, the Pentagon’s top test official, Thomas Christie, expressed concern about the reduction in GMD flight tests. He also said “I do not know when we’re going to run operational tests …. That’s off in the future.”
In January 2004, Mr. Christie issued his report on the 2003 testing program. He noted that testing had been conducted on components and sub-systems, based primarily on modeling and simulations, thereby limiting confidence in the mission capability of the initial deployment. He said later that he could not assess the system’s potential for success against a missile launched from North Korea.
In response to a question during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on 11 March 2004, Mr. Christie stated that operational testing of GMD is not in the plan “for the foreseeable future.”
In discussing the 2004 deployment, Secretary Rumsfeld stated that the GMD program has no “fixed architecture.” Yet the “architecture” is the structure for fitting the component systems together and integrating them. So there is no basis for determining if the components of GMD meet the “form and fit” criteria of technical maturity. Premature deployment risks wasteful expenditures and increased delays in fielding a workable operating system.
The MDA budget for Fiscal Year 2005 is $10.2 billion, with $3.7 billion allocated to GMD, not counting about $500 million programmed for SBIRS High in either figure. However, costs will accelerate with the deployment of the full three-site GMD program with its sea-based adjuncts, as currently envisioned. Given the status of the GMD program, it is not possible to project costs with any degree of precision. However, as one indicator, a thorough study published in January 2003, conducted by top economists including a Nobel Prize winner, estimated the costs of the full GMD program through 2015 between $120 billion and $150 billion, not including subsequent life cycle operational and support costs.
Even the current level of expenditures for GMD raises questions concerning opportunity costs and whether GMD is the best use of limited resources to defend the U.S. against weapons of mass destruction.
The initial concept of a complex system of systems has often proved unworkable. A pertinent example was the Safeguard missile defense program, canceled in 1976 by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld because it provided meager capability at excessive cost.
A national missile defense system that can operate effectively would add some value to our national security. However, operational deployment of such a system should not proceed based on wishful thinking, lest it duplicate the experience of Safeguard. Such a complex weapons system should first prove its effectiveness and suitability by demonstrating its capability to destroy ballistic missiles in realistic tests of the integrated system.
Philip E. Coyle, III, former Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, has said that the system to be deployed in 2004/2005 would be “no more than a scarecrow, not a real defense.” Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has stated that the capability represented by the initial deployment is “better than nothing.” However, it may not be better than spending the funds on other programs that make a more effective contribution to defending the U.S. against WMD.
In addition to considerations regarding the current capability of GMD, the question of determining priorities for expenditures to prevent the delivery of a WMD on the U.S. must be addressed.
As President Bush has stated, the prospect of WMD falling into terrorist hands poses the most serious global security threat; and he has declared that “Our highest priority is to keep terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.” A recent report prepared by a group of experts under the sponsorship of the U.N. Security Council states that “The risk of Al Qaeda acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction … continues to grow.”
Russia’s extensive WMD infrastructure is in disarray, risking becoming a “Home Depot” for terrorists. There also are 24 vulnerable reactors, built by the former Soviet Union in other countries, which use weapons grade nuclear fuel. We have removed the dangerous materials from only three. In addition there are some 130 research reactors, many lightly guarded, in 43 countries that, in total, contain enough highly enriched uranium to produce one thousand nuclear weapons. The uranium was lent, leased or sold to those countries by the U.S.; but we are making only half-hearted efforts to recover the weapons grade uranium and replace it with low-enriched uranium unsuitable for weapons.
Authoritative studies, including the Baker-Cutler Report of 2001, have concluded that spending about $30 billion would secure Russian WMD and nuclear materials and discourage the emigration of Russian scientists with knowledge of WMD production to other countries. While projected expenditures for missile defense in Fiscal Year 2005 total about $10.7 billion, we will be spending less than one-tenth that amount to secure Russian WMD, materials and scientific knowledge. We have spent less in the last decade for these purposes than we will be spending this year alone on missile defense. The Administration’s budget for Fiscal year 2005 includes a reduction of $41 million in proposed Cooperative Threat Reduction expenditures, compared to the previous year.
Intelligence analysts have concluded that potential attacks against the U.S. with WMD are much more likely by means of delivery other than ballistic missiles. An unclassified version of a National Intelligence Estimate on Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015 was published in December 2001. It concluded that U.S. territory is more likely to be attacked “from nonmissile delivery means – most likely from terrorists – than by missiles, primarily because nonmissile delivery means are less costly, easier to acquire, and more reliable and accurate. They also can be used without attribution.” Weapons could be brought in to the U.S. by freighter through a port, on a truck across a border, or into an airfield by cargo or passenger aircraft.
More than six million containers, carried by some 10 thousand ships, currently pass through our 361 ports each year. In Fiscal Year 2003, only 5.4% of those containers were inspected. At the current rate of expenditure, it will take many years to bring port security up to standard.
Add in the smaller but more numerous containers carried by rail, truck and cargo aircraft, and the number of containers grows to an estimated 17 million. Moreover, less than 5% of cargo carried by passenger aircraft currently is physically screened. While the existence of so-called suitcase nuclear bombs is controversial, there is no question that nuclear weapons have been encased in 152 and 155 millimeter artillery shells, which are easily portable; and radioactive materials that could be used in “dirty” bombs, can be carried in relatively small packages.
Given the size of the current and projected budget deficits, it appears that the U.S. will be unable or unwilling to fully fund all national security programs. Sensible priorities will have to be established, and funding allocated accordingly.
Concerning defense of the U.S. against WMD, we seem to have our priorities backward. An attack by ballistic missiles armed with a WMD from a rogue state is far less likely than by terrorists smuggling a weapon into the country.
It appears prudent to divert funds from the national missile defense program to securing WMD sites and protecting our borders, especially the funding to deploy an uncertain national missile defense capability, before it is proved effective by operational testing, against an unlikely long-range missile attack by a rogue state.