Debunking Claims Against Missile Defense

The Fiscal Times recently published a hit piece attacking defense contractors who build ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems and the Members of Congress who support them. The three most egregious claims of the piece are as follows:

1. The system doesn’t work.
2. There is no threat.
3. Members of Congress who support these programs are merely trying to get more defense dollars to their constituents.

Let’s address each of these claims.

1. The system doesn’t work.

This is one of the most persistent claims made by opponents of missile defense. The article says: “Despite partial deployment of land-based anti-missile missiles in California and Alaska and at sea on Aegis class cruisers and destroyers, the majority of experiments involving shooting down single missiles have ended in failure.” If the author wants to lump together a wide variety of complex systems, then it’s fair game to point out that 53 of 67 hit-to-kill intercept attempts have been successful across all programs since the integrated system began development in 2001.

But the U.S. BMD system is comprised of a variety of systems, and each one should be taken and judged independently. Some intercept short-range missiles, some longer ones; and, they are deployed from different places—sea, land, and space. Every major defense program the U.S. has deployed has gone through technical challenges.

A few examples of systems that work:

  • The THAAD system is meant to defend against short-range missiles. It started off having technical problems but now is the poster child of a system that works. Since the current test program began in 2006, THAAD has a 100 percent flight test record with nine of nine successful intercept attempts.
  • The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is one of the most complex. It is currently the only program defending the U.S. homeland from long-range Iranian and North Korean missiles. Since 1999, the GMD system has a test record of eight of 15 intercept attempts (three of five successful intercepts using operationally configured interceptors). Yet, like every other complex weapons system, what many deem test “failures” often demonstrate a particular area in the system that needs to be fixed, while the rest of it is working well. Testing allows engineers and contractors to identify strengths and weaknesses and improve the system.
  • The last example of a system that works is the Aegis weapon system. Aegis is designed to defend against medium-range ballistic missiles. With the earlier variants of its SM-3 missile, it has a very impressive test record. Since the first intercept in January 2002, Aegis has demonstrated 22 out of 27 successful intercepts at sea events, including intercepts of two targets by two interceptors during a single test. The more advanced SM-3 missiles are having some technical challenges, but as we improve these programs, any reasonable person would expect the system would not be perfect immediately.
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2. There is no threat.

The article asserts that Iran isn’t trying to develop a missile capable of hitting the United States. This is factually inaccurate. Iran has successfully orbited satellites three times, proving it is moving closer to achieving an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability. It would make no sense at all if a regime that desires to threaten, blackmail, and influence the U.S. would not try to attain a nuclear ICBM capability. Although North Korea has had trouble proving an ICBM capability, its recent tests showed the world it will continue to invest in this capability, despite being the most heavily sanctioned country on the planet. All a country needs to pose a direct threat to the U.S. is a marrying of its will to do harm and its ability to make this a reality. Both rogue nations have the will, and it’s only a matter of time before they have the ability. It takes time to develop and deploy defenses, so it would be extreme negligence on the part of the U.S. government to wait until the threat is already upon us before it begins defending the American people.

3. Members of Congress who support these programs are merely trying to get more defense dollars to their constituents.

The article points out that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R–CA) has received quite a bit of money from defense contractors, more than implying this is why the Congressman supports missile defense. Yet McKeon’s mark-up had multiple provisions that increased government oversight of struggling programs, canceled a missile defense program he deemed worthy of cancellation (i.e., the Medium Air Defense System), and even included provisions that would increase the responsibility of allied countries to help pay for these programs, putting defense dollars at risk.

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The author also calls out Representative Trent Franks (R–AZ) for supporting missile defense because, according to the article, there is a manufacturing plant in Arizona. Franks has a history of advocating robust and comprehensive missile defense, regardless of where the programs are specifically manufactured, and some of his most enthusiastic support is for programs that have zero economic benefit to his state (such as space-based defenses). The article then points out that the ranking Member, Adam Smith (D–WA), also receives money from defense contractors for his re-election; yet, the Congressman opposed defense increases supported by Republicans.

The article is not accurate, nor is it a fair representation of those who support a program that is very good and getting better with time. Missile defense is a necessary component of American national security at a time in history when more countries have nuclear weapons or are trying their hardest to attain them. BMD has the potential of deterring enemies from pursuing missile technology, since they know we’ll have the ability to knock them out of the sky. It is the only system the U.S. has to protect cities once an enemy has chosen to fire missiles toward unsuspecting Americans. This is a mission worth pursuing.

Source material can be found at this site.

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