17 September 2014
New missile defense sites would throw good money after bad
The Boston Globe


Wilbert McClay’s Sept. 12 letter “Missile defense system may be best hedge against nuclear Iran” mischaracterized what the recent ground-based missile defense test revealed about this system.

This summer’s test was the first success in three attempts for the current version of the GMD interceptor. A 33 percent success rate is a poor basis for expanding the missile defense system.

The current interceptor’s first test, in 2010, reportedly failed because of ongoing quality-control problems in manufacturing. The second test failure, a year later, revealed a design flaw that requires repairs to 10 interceptors that were put in silos before their design was even tested.

Overall, the Missile Defense Agency has staged only nine GMD intercept tests since it fielded a rudimentary system in 2004. Interceptors destroyed an incoming warhead in only three of them.

These failures shouldn’t come as a surprise. The system’s rushed development schedule and reduced congressional oversight abetted numerous engineering failures and cost overruns.

Missile defense industry contractors also must shoulder some of the blame. This month, the Defense Department’s inspector general issued a report criticizing them for substandard quality control.

Building a new missile defense site in the Midwest or, as McClay recommends, on the East Coast would be throwing good money after bad. Missile Defense Agency officials would rather spend that money on improving what we have. Taxpayers should demand accountability, not another site for an unproven system.

Laura Grego
Senior scientist
Union of Concerned Scientists

17 September 2014
Missile defense system may be best hedge against nuclear Iran
The Boston Globe


Years of negotiations have not stopped the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and cloak-and-dagger operations seem to have failed as well (“Iran says nuclear scientists were targeted,” Page A5, Sept. 3). Instead of “Hail Mary” efforts to keep Iran from building a bomb, perhaps we should be investing more in the defenses that would protect us if they do.

America’s ground-based midcourse defense, or GMD system, has already proved that it can shoot an incoming ballistic missile from the sky, and its most recent successful test this summer even overcame the kind of decoy countermeasures critics say would thwart our radar sensors.

However, the GMD system’s “kill vehicles,” the interceptors that destroy incoming missiles in the upper atmosphere, are all on the West Coast, close to the North Korean threat. To stop an Iranian ballistic missile they must travel across the entire country, adding thousands of miles and precious minutes to the mission. Congress should build an additional interceptor field in the East. Currently sites in Maine, Vermont, New York, Ohio, and Michigan are under study. We should also invest in more testing and technical improvements to strengthen the system.

At less than half of 1 percent of the military budget, GMD is cheap but valuable protection against the Iranian nuclear threat.

Wilbert A. McClay

The writer is a research scientist in cybersecurity at Northeastern University and formerly worked as a scientist with the Defense Department.

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