The left-wing Politico mag has published yet another ridiculous screed pertaining to defense issues, this time, a diatribe by a political hack named Edward-Isaac Devere regarding missile defense.
I will not go by every line of his screed and refute each of them individually, as that would be a waste of time. Rather, I shall summarize his lies and refute them in a way similar to the way I refute myths about defense spending.
The purpose of his screed, of course, is to smear missile defense and mislead the American people into believing that it is extremely expensive and totally ineffective. But since even the most leftist Administration in US history doesn’t agree, he’s been forced to quote the most leftist hacks in America, such as Joe Cirincione, as authoritative sources. (Cirincione, although hailed by Dovere as a “nuclear weapons expert and a missile defense critic who calls missile defense “the greatest scam in the DOD”, is actually just an ignorant political hack who has utterly discredited himself with his ridiculous claims.)
Lie #1: The entire missile defense system is totally ineffective. It cannot protect America against any ballistic missile attacks.
“For decades, the military’s been trying to get a missile shield system in place that would eliminate the danger of the kind potentially posed by the rocket North Korea launched Friday morning Pyongyang time. But 60 years and $35 billion later, we’re not there yet. Or, according to many missile defense experts, very close at all.”
To defend his blatant lie, he quotes a former general turned arms control activist, Robert Gard:
““You hear some of them say that it’s the only defense of the United States against ballistic missiles we’ve got. But the problem is, it doesn’t work,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, Jr., the Chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.”
Those statements are blatant lies (like the rest of the article).
Missile defense systems DO WORK.
The United States Missile Defense System is comprised of a wide variety of equipment: Patriot and THAAD batteries designed against short-to-medium-range missiles, SM-3 sea-launched missiles designed against short-to-intermediate range BMs, ground-based interceptors (GBIs) deployed in Alaska and California, an experimental Airborne Laser aircraft, and a network of ground-based sensors (in the Aleutian Islands, the CONUS, Greenland, Britain), shipborne Aegis BMD radars, and spaced-based sensors. With the possible exception of GBIs and the Airborne Laser, these systems DO work, have been tested dozens of times, have passed the vast majority of their tests, and some of them have been proven in real-life crises. The Aegis radar and SM-3 interceptors have passed over 80% of their tests, and in 2008, they intercepted USA-193, an errant satellite that was about to fall down on Earth; thus, they proved themselves when human life depended on them. PATRIOT interceptors have passed the majority of their tests and have been proven in two real wars: the two Gulf Wars. During the first, they intercepted Iraqi Scud missiles launched at Israel, thus preventing Israel from retaliating against Iraq and breaking up the anti-Iraqi coalition (which Saddam hoped would happen, hence he launched Scuds at Israel). During the Second Gulf War, they intercepted the 10 Iraqi Scuds launched at Kuwait City. THAAD interceptors have passed 10 out of their 14 tests, i.e. 71.42%, and each THAAD battery can cover the area the size of New Jersey. Even the Airborne Laser has passed 60% of its tests, although 5 tests hardly constitute a sufficient evaluation. So in general, the US missile defense system DOES WORK, and if North Korea’s launch of its TD-2 ICBM had succeeded, the missile would’ve likely been intercepted.
Furthermore, the claim that the US has been developing missile defense for 60 years is also a blatant lie. There was no missile defense project at all until the 1960s. But then, Secretary McNamara killed the program (for fears it would upset the strategic balance with the USSR), and in 1972, the US signed the ABM treaty, which banned the development of missile defense systems. No real missile defense effort was made until the Reagan years, and after Clinton dramatically slowed it down, it did not pick up in the earnest until the Bush years.
Lie #2: “But raising more concern: Of the 15 missile intercept tests for the military’s system, seven have failed. After the two failures in 2010, the military delayed the next test until this December —which, if successful, would be the first test to bring down a missile in four years. There’s yet to be a fully-fledged missile defense test even attempted.”
Dovere again misleads readers into thinking, and possibly even believes himself, that the Ground-Based Interceptor (which is the particular BMD system he’s talking about here) is America’s ONLY missile defense system. That, as explained above, is not true. Likewise, the claim that no “fully-fledged missile defense has even been attempted” is also a blatant lie. As for the GBI system itself, it has itself undergone fully fledged tests, and has passed the majority (8 of 15) of its tests. Dovere blasts it for its last two tests, which were failures, but fails to mention how the DOD RESPONDED to these failures (which, BTW, happened in 2o10): by taking the program on a corrective course, detecting the failure’s causes, and eliminating these root causes, at the contractor’s expense (the contract includes a Defects Clause which made the contractor liable for the cost of correcting any flaws). Even Sen. Levin, for a long time a missile defense skeptic, has praised the MDA for doing so and has hailed its approach as an acquisition strategy model (holding contractors responsible).
Have Ground Based Interceptors suffered failures such as these two? Yes. So has aircraft development. Most flight attempts by the Wright Brothers were failures. But they kept trying and continually improved their plane, and eventually succeeded. If they had given up after 2 or even 7 failures, aircraft would not have existed today… unless someone else had resumed the developmental effort.
(And even after aircraft were eventually developed and fielded, many military leaders, such as Marshal Ferdinand Foch, claimed they were militarily useless.)
Test failures are an unavoidable part of any developmental effort. Ronald Reagan understood that and warned that missile defense would not be immune from failures but would nonetheless be necessary. “There will be successes as well as failures and setbacks”, he said in his famous SDI speech in March 1983. But test failures can be overcome, their causes can be detected and removed, and the GBI has nonetheless passed the majority of its tests.
Lie #3: “(…) lost were the questions many defense experts have been asking: whether politicians from both parties are for political reasons defending a defense network built to hold off a threat that may not ever emerge, and isn’t up to date with current thinking about the threats America and its allies face. (…) One argument against the importance of a missile shield is that neither Iran or North Korea has yet developed missiles with the range that the shield is meant to protect from, as the latest broken rocket suggests.”
Again, Dovere suggests that the GBI is America’s only missile defense system, which is untrue. America’s BMD network consists of a wide variety of systems, most of which (Patriots, THAAD, and SM-3 interceptors) are designed against short-, medium-, and intermediate range ballistic missiles, of which Iran and North Korea have hundreds (not to mention China, Russia, Syria, etc.). Obama’s missile defense program, including the EPAA, is, by his own admission, designed primarily against these missiles, with anti-ICBM capabilities to be added in 2020. The DOD’s BMD Review and actual BMD programs also prioritize addressing the SRBM/MRBM threat, which constitutes the bulk of the BMs existing in the world.
Furthermore, the claim that the NK/Iranian ICBM threat is nonexistent and may never emerge is a lie. North Korea will eventually perfect ICBM technology, and its Taepodong ICBMs can theoretically already reach the US. Iran is projected by the US intel community to have ICBMs capable of hitting the US by 2015. According to the Free Beacon, it already has some, having bought them from China. Moreover, the point of a defense is to be AHEAD of the threat, not neck-to-neck with it.
Lie #4: “Perfectly realized, the shield would mean freedom from fear of ballistic attack for the United States and its allies—though not including Israel and South Korea, because of their proximity to the expected launch sites in Iran and North Korea.”
No one is aiming for a “perfect” system, which will never exist. As for Israel and South Korea, they WILL be protected as well. Israel has already deployed two Arrow batteries and is procuring a third; Arrow has been rigorously, successfully tested and can intercept Iranian BMs. South Korea is protected by 16 American Patriot batteries and could be even better protected if it would bother to buy its own Patriot and THAAD batteries and make its warships BMD-capable. The obstacle here is political, not technological. Seoul is simply reticent in defending itself.
Missile defense was targeted by Obama on his first day. His very first defense budget, for FY2010, cut BMD spending by 1.4 bn USD and cancelled or cut several crucial BMD programs, including the MKV, the KEI, and the ABL. BMD spending was only slightly increased in FYs2011-2012, never reaching its FY2009 level again. Now the ABL program is being completely terminated, and missile defense is slated to be deeply cut if sequestration of defense spending occurs. By contrast, NO federal agency other than the DOD has so far experienced more than slight budget cuts.
In short, Dovere’s entire screed is a litany of blatant lies. It is not surprising that the utterly-discredited leftist Politico mag has published it; no self-respecting publication would ever accept it. It’s nothing more than a pathetic political attack aimed at tarring all missile defense systems in the eyes of Americans with blatant lies.