22 January 2004
Missile Defense System Doubts
Top weapons tester says the Defense Department doesn't know whether it will work as intended.
By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department won't know whether its multibillion-dollar missile defense system will be able to accomplish its mission when it becomes operational in Alaska in September, the Pentagon's chief weapons tester said Wednesday.
In a report to Congress, Thomas P. Christie said that because of a limited testing schedule that had been hampered by engineering setbacks, "it is not clear what mission capability will be demonstrated prior to initial defense operations."
The fledgling system is to be based in Alaska, with a second component in California, and is intended to help protect against a long-range missile attack from North Korea. After years of debate over the wisdom of building such a complex and expensive system, President Bush vowed early in his term to have a system built before the end of his first term.
Defense officials maintain that it is better to start with a rudimentary defensive system than to have none at all.
They say that a continuing series of tests and upgrades will improve the capability of the system, which is now being erected at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
But critics seized on the report by the Pentagon's own expert.
"We won't know what this system can do, if anything," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This is a rather severe indictment."
He said the system's capabilities would be unproven even if two flight tests scheduled to be held before September were successful.
John Isaacs, president of Council for a Livable World, an arms-control group in Washington, said the report is "essentially confirmation that the deployment is essentially a sham, and that there's no evidence it will work. He called it a political deployment."
The Pentagon is spending about $9 billion a year on various missile defense programs. Estimates of the final cost of the evolving system range from tens of billions to hundreds of billions of dollars.
Lt. Col. Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, said the organization was preparing a formal response to the report by Christie, director of the Pentagon's office of operational test and evaluation.
Lehner insisted that the system would give the country a basic defense against a limited long-range threat against all 50 states, "and that's something we don't have now. We think it will be reliable and effective against this limited threat." The system will be continually tested and improved, Lehner said.
In his report, Christie said assessments of the system's capabilities were based primarily on modeling and simulation and developmental testing of components, rather than on testing of a complete system. He said that because of "the immature nature of the systems they emulate, models and simulations . cannot be adequately validated at this time."
Christie is to submit a report on the system's readiness for fielding at the end of the summer. He noted in Wednesday's report that because of delays in production and testing of two rocket-booster designs, there had been "tremendous pressure on the test schedule" before the expected fielding.
He also said additional tests of the Cobra Dane radar that would be critical to the system were "currently not planned." One of two booster rockets is on schedule for development and production, but a second has encountered problems and is behind schedule.
Christie has previously voiced concerns about the schedule.
In an interview three weeks ago with Inside the Pentagon, a trade publication, Christie noted the problems with the booster rockets. "I'm a little concerned, frankly," he said.
Another costly blunder in the making by the evil "genius" Bush and his band of merry men.