The knock on United States National Missile Defense based in Alaska and California is that it never has been proved to work in real-world situations. Billions of dollars have been spent on that system, now called “ground-based mid-course,” but there is no sure evidence that the defense would work should North Korea launch nuclear-tipped missiles against us.
Because of the powerful political backing for the program, missile defense has avoided the commonsense “Fly Before You Buy” mantra that prevents billions from being wasted on weapons that may eventually prove ineffective.
According to a recent report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), the government auditing agency, the Obama Administration is risking repeating history with its proposed missile defense systems in Europe.
The Bush Administration hid the true costs of National Missile Defense and avoided close scrutiny by using a policy it labeled “spiral development” – which probably should have stood for spiraling costs.
The Obama Administration’s new label is “phased adaptive approach.” According to the GAO, there are more questions than answers about the new plan.
To review the bidding, on September 17, 2009, President Obama announced a new approach for missile defense in Europe while canceling the Bush-planned system for establishing a third site for National Missile Defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. The revised system, to be deployed in phases of an increasingly capable system, was called “European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). The Administration argued that the new system could be deployed sooner against a nearer term threat and more comprehensively than the previous approach.
The first interceptors would be designed to protect U.S. forces deployed in Europe and our European allies against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles launched by Iran. Eventually, a matured system would help defend against longer-range threats.
The original interceptor deployments would take place on Aegis ships as early as 2011. Phase 2 is scheduled for 2015, including an Aegis defense system on land in Romania. In 2018, there would be more deployment in Poland and then a long-range defense by 2020.
NATO recently endorsed the territorial missile defense system, although it has yet to reach agreement on how to implement the new mission.
However, the missile defense agency is still exempt from rigorous standards. The GAO notes that: “MDA [Missile Defense Agency] continues to be exempted from DOD’s traditional joint requirements determination, acquisition, and associated oversight processes.”
In other words, there is no way to judge success if there are no clear requirements and goals except those defined by the agency with the most stake it defining the system as a success.
The GAO continues: “DOD does not have the information it needs to assess whether the EPAA schedule is realistic and achievable, identify potential problems,
or analyze how changes will impact the execution of this effort, and therefore is exposed to increased schedule, performance, and cost risks.”
As with National Missile Defense, the Pentagon may follow the proposed schedule and spend billions with no idea whether the system will really work. Pentagon does not yet have an overall cost estimate, according to the GAO. “DOD has not yet developed EPAA life-cycle cost estimates and has indicated that it is unlikely to do so because EPAA is considered a policy designed to maximize flexibility. As a result, DOD does not have a basis from which to assess EPAA’s affordability and cost-effectiveness and is missing a tool with which to monitor implementation progress.”
The GAO adds: “Without life-cycle cost estimates DOD may not be able to determine whether its revised approach to BMD in Europe is fiscally sustainable and affordable.”
In other words, the United States may be buying more pigs in pokes with no ability to reply on the new system during a crisis.
By rushing forward with many aspects of the program, the GAO notes, the system will may have challenges in getting all its parts working together: “EPAA’s phases are not yet integrated with key acquisition activities and so are exposed to risk of schedule slips, decreased performance, and increased cost”.
Now none of these criticisms should phase [pun intended] Republicans, who have long embraced missile defense whether or not the system has been proved to work.
These Republicans are modern-day Potemkin-ites. According to history/myths, Russian minister Grigory Potyomkin had hollow facades of villages constructed along the Dnieper River in order to impress Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787.
The modern-day equivalent is the hollow missile defenses in Alaska and California. The new Obama plan is running the same risk as the West Coast system.
The Administration should slow down, set realistic goals, come up with a definitive cost estimate, and test the hell out of the system.