Despite differences, US-Russia still cooperate on New START and More

Make no mistake: we should continue to vigorously oppose Russian actions that undermine international security in places like Ukraine and Syria. But instead of solely focusing on what drives us apart, let’s find the right areas to increase cooperation and improve the security of both countries and the world.

Top 10 Reasons Obama Should Veto the Defense Authorization Bill

On October 21, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin G. Hatch formally completed action on the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and sent it to President Obama. The president now has ten calendar days, excluding Sunday, to either veto or sign the bill. Here are ten reasons the president should veto the NDAA.

Time to Change U.S. Missile Defense Culture

By Philip Coyle

As a taxpayer, you might be disappointed to learn that the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and its contractors haven’t been following standard and essential quality control procedures when it comes to the design, development, and production of a key missile defense system. If not, you should be.

The September 8, 2014, report of the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General (IG), “Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle [EKV] Quality Assurance and Reliability Assessment, Part A,” criticizes the sloppy work finding 48 “nonconformances” with good practice.  Twenty-two of those are “major,” meaning “nonfulfillment of a requirement that is likely to result in the failure of the quality management system or reduce its ability to ensure controlled processes or compliant products/services.”  

For those of you who don’t speak wonk, this means the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system deployed in Alaska and California and designed to protect the U.S. homeland against a potential North Korean or Iranian missile attack isn’t dependable. The EKV, which is intended to collide with and destroy an incoming missile high above the Earth’s atmosphere, is a small but very critical part of the GMD system. If the EKV doesn’t work, neither will the GMD system. To date, GMD has cost taxpayers roughly $40 billion.

Part B of the DoD IG report analyzes the reliability of the EKVs now deployed in the field in Alaska and California, but that report will be classified so taxpayers won’t see the bottom line.

Of course, we already know that the GMD system is defective from the poor record of performance of the EKV in past flight intercept tests.  The DoD IG reports that “Three of these intercept tests resulted in failures attributable to the EKV.”  A fourth failure in a test a year ago last July is still being studied by MDA.  But the IG truncated its analysis.  If it had included all of the failures attributable to the EKV going back to January 2000, it would have reported six failures attributable to the EKV, not three.  And once the analysis of last year’ test are in, the count likely will be seven failures attributable to the EKV, not three. What’s more, given MDA’s problems with quality control, even a successful test of the system, such as the one that occurred in June, doesn’t demonstrate system reliability.

The complexity of the EKV effort is apparent from this summary in the DoD IG report: “With more than 1,800 unique parts, 10,000 pages of work instructions, and 130,000 process steps for the current configuration, EKV repairs and refurbishments are considered by the program to be costly and problematic and make the EKV susceptible to quality assurance failures.”

At the heart of these problems is a culture at MDA and its contractors with roots that go back to January 2, 2002, when the Secretary of Defense exempted MDA from following the Pentagon’s normal rules for acquiring a weapons system.  Little wonder, then, that the DoD IG found that MDA and its contractors didn’t follow the rules; they think they don’t have to!  

According to the DOD IG, “Therefore, the EKV did not go through the milestone decision review process and the product development phase (Engineering and Manufacturing Development).”  Why is this important? The DoD IG explains: “The purpose of the milestone decision review is to carefully assess a program’s readiness to proceed to the next acquisition phase and to make a sound investment decision committing the DoD’s financial resources. For the product development phase, the program is assessed to ensure that the product design is stable, manufacturing processes are controlled, and the product can perform in the intended operational environment.”

As a result, The DoD IG concludes, “the EKV prototype was forced into operational capability” before it was ready.  “A combination of cost constraints and failure-driven program restructures has kept the program in a state of change. Schedule and cost priorities drove a culture of ‘use-as-is’ leaving the EKV as a manufacturing challenge,”

This history would be troubling enough if it were only history.  Unfortunately MDA and its contractors have never recovered from the culture that resulted when they first were exempted from the rules.  They see those rules as not applying to them.  They see themselves as not having to answer to those rules, and this drives program interactions at all levels where oversight is concerned in the Pentagon and the Congress.

This has implications for future missile defense development efforts. For example, MDA is in the early stages of designing a new EKV to replace the current fleet. Without a change in the default culture, the nation is unlikely to have a more dependable product than the existing, flawed, kill vehicles. Ominously, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has already begun to raise concerns about the acquisition plan for the new EKV.

Can the Director of the MDA, Admiral James D. Syring, put us on a more responsible path?  Indications are the Admiral Syring cares deeply about not repeating past mistakes. And he certainly knows the best culture of the U.S. Navy.  For example, the Navy’s offensive strategic missile systems have a long history of quality, distinction, and excellence.  The people who work in those programs maintain the highest standards and hold themselves accountable to them.  When it comes to defending the United States, our missile defense programs deserve no less.

Philip Coyle is the Senior Science Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. In 2010 and 2011 Mr. Coyle served as the Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs (NSIA) in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Iron Dome is not GMD

by Lt. General Robert Gard, Jr.

The Israeli Iron Dome rocket/artillery defense system is touted as destroying 85 to 90 percent of the targets it attacks. U.S. Senator Ron Paul (R-KY) was so intrigued by Iron Dome’s success during a visit to Israel that, upon returning home, he advocated deploying the system in U.S. cities.

While few if any other missile defense advocates go that far, several supporters of the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse national missile defense system (GMD) believe that Iron Dome’s purported success is testimony to the potential effectiveness of GMD. Yet these are two very different systems.

Iron Dome, first deployed in 2011, is designed to target small, unguided, inaccurate, slow- and low-flying rockets fired from four to 70 kilometers away from the defensive system. The rockets’ trajectories travel entirely in the atmosphere. An Iron Dome battery consists of an S-Band phased array radar, a fire control element, and three launchers, each armed with 20 explosive-tipped, proximity-fused Tamir interceptors, which are three meters long.

GMD faces the far more daunting task of intercepting warheads in space that are delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles. In the space environment, debris from the booster rocket and countermeasures designed to spoof the defense fly together with, and at the same speed as, the attacking warhead, making it difficult for the interceptor to distinguish between the warhead and non-lethal objects. Impact hit-to-kill vehicles must try to find and collide with warheads traveling 15,000 miles per hour.

Iron Dome, known as a low-tiered capability, is one of three systems Israel is developing to provide a layered missile defense complex. The other two have not yet been employed in combat.

The Arrow is the top-tiered system, intended to intercept tactical ballistic missiles. Its development was accorded high priority after the first Gulf War, when Iraq attacked Israel with Scud missiles. Arrow II, with an explosive warhead, was first deployed in 2000. Arrow III, which had its second successful flight test in January 2014, is being designed in collaboration with the U.S. Boeing company to employ an impact hit-to-kill interceptor to engage intermediate range ballistic missiles in space. Arrow III, not Iron Dome, is similar to GMD.

David’s Sling, also called Magic Wand, is a mid-tier system under development in cooperation U.S. defense contractor Raytheon. It is being designed to intercept high velocity medium and long range rockets, cruise missiles and short range ballistic missiles. It had its first successful intercept test in November 2012, but has not yet been operationally deployed.  

However successful Iron Dome may be, it cannot serve as a harbinger for the potential of GMD. It is no more a harbinger than a Ford Fiesta is for a Ferrari. They are very different systems.

GOP Members Push Expanded, Expensive Missile Defense Against Russia, China

Some hawkish members of the House Armed Services Committee and conservative missile defense advocates are promoting a vastly expanded missile defense system that could entail huge new expenditures and be of dubious effectiveness.

That is the message of a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing on missile defense.

The current system to defend the U.S. homeland against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is called the Ground-Based Mid-Course missile defense system (GMD). GMD is designed to counter an attack by a rogue state with a single or very few missiles (for example a future North Korean or Iranian ICBM threat), or an accidental or unauthorized missile strike from Russia or China.

While serious questions remain about whether the existing GMD system can perform its intended mission, the proposed expanded roles for missile defense are the height of folly.

The House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing was entitled, “Adapting U.S. Missile Defense for Future Threats: Russia, China and Modernizing the NMD Act.”

The main question posed to the witnesses was, “Does a policy of limited missile defenses against limited threats continue to make sense in today’s threat environment?”

Here is the deal.

In 1999, Congress overwhelmingly adopted legislation endorsing a National Missile Defense system to defend “against limited ballistic missile attack.” The language also called for deployment only if the system  is “effective” and “as soon as is technologically possible.”

Some of the committee Republicans, led by Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL), now think that it is time to go beyond “limited” missile defense. So too does the conservative Heritage Foundation and others.

In other words, these members of Congress and others would like to see our missile defense system efforts go beyond the ability to defeat one or two missiles from a rogue state and instead design the system to defeat all out attacks by Russian or Chinese ICBMs.

During the hearing, Ambassador Robert G. Joseph explicitly endorsed expanded missile defense that could include directed energy and space weapons previously rejected as impractical and too expensive. He also called for shifting emphasis from theater defenses and shorter-range threats to national missile defense.

Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) also embraced space based defenses and directed energy weapons, options previously rejected by governments of both parties.

The two problems: even the limited GMD missile defense currently deployed is not “effective” as required by the legislation, and an expanded defense against the Russian and Chinese nuclear forces would be a prohibitively expensive scarecrow.

The witnesses were Philip Coyle, Senior Science Fellow, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, former CIA Director James Woolsey, Jr. and Former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Ambassador Robert G. Joseph.

Coyle is a recognized expert on U.S. and worldwide military research, development and testing. He has served under four U.S. Presidents, mostly recently as the Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs in President Obama’s White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Coyle’s remarks hit the nail on the head. In his opening statement, he outlined three important reasons why it would be unwise for the United States to pursue an expanded missile defense against Russia and China.  

First, the technology simply does not exist to deal with a deliberate Russian or Chinese ICBM attack. U.S. missile defenses against ICBMs can at best deal with very limited attacks—say from Iran or North Korea—and even that goal continues to be a technological challenge.

Second, the costs of trying to deploy a system to deal effectively with a Russian or Chinese attack would be staggering. In 2002, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of several different proposed missile defense programs that would be integrated into one layered system in 2025. The CBO estimated that a system of ground-based interceptors would cost between $27 and $74 billion, a system of ship-launched interceptors would cost $50 to $64 billion, and a Space-Based Laser system would cost $82 to $100 billion. All of these systems are meant for only a “limited” attack. CBO has not yet estimated the costs of a system designed to defeat Russia and China’s ICBMS, but it would necessarily be considerably more expensive.  

Third, if the U.S. had missile defense that could effectively defeat Russian and Chinese ICBMs without being overwhelmed, it would be strategically destabilizing and provoke military responses from Russia and China. If Russia and China perceived their ICBM arsenals had been rendered useless, Russia and China would need to respond with new forces—perhaps more attacking missiles, cruise missiles (against which our missile defense systems are useless), or perhaps even the deployment of troops areas of the world that are currently peaceful.

Furthermore, Russia would certainly not agree to further reductions in its nuclear arsenal and may then use new U.S. missile defense programs as justification to withdraw from New START and other important arms control agreements that have significantly reduced the threat from nuclear weapons.

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., in a May 28 talk at the Atlantic Council, punctured the expansive views of those who argue for massive new missile defenses as he explained why limited defenses are in the best U.S. interest.

“As you know,” he said, “we’ve told Russia and the world that we will not rely on missile defense for strategic deterrence of Russia because it would simply be too hard and too expensive and too strategically destabilizing to even try.”  Later the Admiral reiterated this point, saying, “And let me be clear once again: it’s not the policy of the United States to build a ballistic missile defense system to counter Russian ballistic missiles.”  

Read Phil Coyle’s entire testimony here

America’s Massive Missile Defense Mistake

This week, The National Interest published an op-ed by Lt. General (USA, Ret.) Robert Gard and Phil Coyle on the implications for U.S. missile defense of the successful test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system last Sunday. The authors argue that one successful test of the GMD system every five years and one-half years should not justify the deployment of more flawed interceptors.

The Defense That Does not Defend: More problems for national missile defense

I have a new article up over a the mothership on the latest setback for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. Here’s how it starts:

America’s troubled national ballistic missile defense system just found more trouble.

For the first time, the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, Dr. Michael Gilmore, has determined that this system, known as Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD), may be too flawed to save.

In his Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 report to Congress, Dr. Gilmore states that the design of the two types of “kill vehicles” that sit atop our 30 long-range interceptors in Alaska and California are of questionable “robustness” and that the Pentagon should consider redesigning them. Translation: the system as currently configured – which has cost the American taxpayer roughly $40 billion – can’t be relied upon to perform its intended mission of protecting the U.S. homeland against even rudimentary long-range missiles launched from North Korea or Iran.

Dr. Gilmore’s report is but the latest in a long list of setbacks for the GMD system, all of which cast serious doubts over the wisdom of the Pentagon’s plan to spend $1 billion to deploy 14 additional ground based interceptors in Alaska with the existing flawed kill vehicles – to say nothing about building a third site for the system in the eastern half of the country, as proposed by some Republicans in Congress.

Click here to read the whole piece.