24 September 2006

Heckuva Job Protecting Us -- With a Shield of Lies

On a chilly July morning on the Alaskan tundra, the first Interceptor missile was lowered into a silo at Fort Greeley. Over the following weeks, five more missiles were planted into their silos, as the Ballistic Missile Defense System, once known as Star Wars, went on line. As part of Bush's accelerated deployment scheme, the Pentagon is set to install a total of 10 missiles in Alaska and 10 more at Ft. Vandenburg Air Base in California in 2004, with dozens more to follow over the next two years. The scheme is so accelerated that the Pentagon admits that they have no idea how the missiles would be launched, who would give the order to launch them and whether they will have the even the remotest chance of hitting their target.

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Bush painted his pet project as a technological and military triumph. But he surely knew better. In fact, he had just been briefed that the multi-billion dollar scheme was plagued with problems from top to bottom. According to the Washington Post, an internal Pentagon report presented to Bush in early August 2004 concluded that the ground based Interceptor rockets now humming in their Alaskan silos will have less than a 20 percent chance of knocking down a nuclear missile carried on a primitive North Korean rocket.

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In eight flight tests, the Interceptors, launched without boosters, hit their target only five times. Yet in those tests, the Interceptor was travelling at less that half the speed it would need to under operational conditions.

Bush, given his academic record, might consider a 60 percent test score an impressive achievement. But it's a pretty dismal showing for a missile system that has consumed nearly $70 billion, especially when you factor in the fact that to date all of the Interceptor tests have been fixed. For starters, the target missiles carried the equivalent of a homing beacon that "lit them up", in the words of one tester, so that the Interceptors could find them in the skies over the Pacific.

The weapons testers also knew when and where the missiles had been launched, as well as their trajectory, speed and path. In other words, they knew where they were going and when they would be there. Hitting the target only 60 percent of the time under these rigged conditions is like flunking the test even after you've stolen the exam.

The Interceptors performance didn't improve over time and the Pentagon testers had little idea about where to locate the source of the problem or how to upgrade the missile's batting average. Instead of going back to the drawing board, the Pentagon, in December 2002, simply declared that the Interceptor was ready for deployment and stopped further testing.
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