Whaddaya Get for $40 Billion? Not Much

Isn't it pretty? Artist’s rendering of an anti-missile interceptor. (Photo courtesy Raytheon/TNS)

Isn’t it pretty? Artist’s rendering of an anti-missile interceptor. (Photo courtesy Raytheon/TNS)

$40 billion won’t buy you much these days. It certainly won’t buy you a functional anti-missile defense.

The goal of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System is to shoot down enemy missiles. It has never, thank Blog, been used in warfare. In tests it has a wretched record. In 17 intercept tests, it has managed to kill the target just nine times. and in several of those tests, the target was broadcasting the radio signal equivalent of “Here I am, hit me,” which, you’ll admit, isn’t much of a test.

Part of the problem is that the system was hastily built. As a consequence of the haste, some of the components are – how to say this politely? – worthless. That would include the four small rockets attached to the “kill vehicles,” called divert thrusters, that refine the aim of the kill vehicle to make it strike the enemy rocket. The divert thrusters generate a lot of vibration, that – WC will use technical language here – boogers the other stuff that tries to aim the kill vehicle. Basically, the divert thrusters make the kill vehicle shake so hard that it can’t be aimed.

The Department of Defense’s solution was to build new divert thrusters that weren’t supposed to vibrate so severely. Back in January the Missile Defense Agency ran a test of the New & Improved divert thrusters. They failed again, or at least in the $250 million test the kill vehicle didn’t get anywhere close to the target missile. Missile Defense Agency lied about it. The Los Angeles Times reported:

The missile agency issued a news release that day touting a “successful flight test.” The agency’s lead contractors were no less effusive. Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc., maker of the thrusters, said the new model “successfully performed its mission-critical role.”

Raytheon Co., which assembles the interceptors, said the “successful mission proved the effectiveness of a recent redesign of the … thrusters, which provides the control necessary for lethal impact with incoming threats.”

In fact, the test was not a success, the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau has learned. One of the thrusters malfunctioned, causing the interceptor to fly far off course, according to Pentagon scientists.

Caught lying, the Missile Defense Agency equivocated:

“There was an observation unrelated to the new thruster hardware that has been investigated and successfully root-caused,” the agency said in a written response to questions. “Any necessary corrective actions will be taken for the next flight test.”

Military-speak can be difficult to understand, so WC will translate this for his readers: “You caught us lying. So we’ll redefine ‘success’ to include ‘failure.'” The Defense Department won’t say how badly the test missed because that’s you know, classified. Because the illusion of a successful system might deter the bad guys?

This is what more than $40 billion will buy you. A failed missile system and a bucket of agency double-speak. It surely will not protect you from North Korean missiles, or from the highly improbable terrorist missiles.

The Missile Defense System does stand for some other things, though. It’s construction happened after the United States withdrew – backed out – of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Quick, which country was the first nation since World War II to back out of a major arms control agreement? That would be us, the beacon of liberty and fair play, the “good guys.”

True, Alaska, and especially the Delta Junction area around Fort Greely, where 26 of the 30 operational – for a given definition of “operational” – missiles are located, Delta Junction made out very well, thank you. And President Obama’s plan to add another ten missiles is a nice bonus. But as a successful system, even as a kind of wishful deterrent, the Missile Defense System is near-perfect failure.

WC isn’t suggesting that North Korea’s not a threat. Just that this isn’t a solution.


One thought on “Whaddaya Get for $40 Billion? Not Much

  1. This is the problem. Defense contracts let nearly every day for more than $7 million: http://www.defense.gov/News/Contracts

    Hubby stayed in a B&B near Delta when “We are ready for ’em” then-cowboy president Bush claimed the system was up and running. Missile defense contractors occupying same B&B were there to figure out a way to chisel out missiles frozen in ice cubes in silos. It is a ruse, the worst part is the abdication of the treaty. On that day the U.S. was officially purchased by the defense industry.

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