Reuters – 2004-05-15 14:49:44
WASHINGTON (May 13, 2004) — The multibillion-dollar U.S. ballistic missile shield due to start operating by Sept. 30 appears incapable of shooting down any incoming warheads, an independent scientists’ group said on Thursday.
A technical analysis found “no basis for believing the system will have any capability to defend against a real attack,” the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a 76-page report titled “Technical Realities.”
The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency rejected the report, whose authors included Philip Coyle, the Defense Department’s top weapons tester under former President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2001.
“Even the limited defense we are mounting provides a level of protection against an accidental or unauthorized (intercontinental ballistic missile) launch or a limited attack where we currently have no protection,” said Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman. “It would be irresponsible to not make it available for the defense of our nation and our people.”
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, concurred with the report’s findings. The Bush administration should stop buying missile-defense interceptors until they are proven to work through “combat-realistic” operational tests, he said in a statement.
The first U.S. deployment involves 10 interceptor missiles to be stored in silos in Alaska and California. The initial goal is to protect all 50 U.S. states against a limited strike from North Korean missiles that could be tipped with nuclear, chemical or biological warheads.
Boeing Co. is assembling the shield, which would use the interceptors to launch “kill vehicles” meant to pulverize targets in the mid-course of their flight paths, outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
Guided by infrared sensors, the vehicles would search the chill of space for the warheads. So far, the interceptors have scored hits five times in eight highly controlled tests.
The report’s authors said demonstrating such a “hit-to-kill” capability was not the primary, or most difficult, missile-defense challenge.
Even unsophisticated “countermeasures” that could be mounted by countries such as North Korea remain an unsolved problem, they said.
For instance, inflatable balloons or other decoys coated with a thin polyester film could be given the same infrared signature as a warhead, the scientists said. The project could also be confused by sealing the warhead in a large balloon so the kill vehicle could not pinpoint its exact location, or tethering several balloons to it.
Overstating the defensive capabilities was irresponsible, said the report by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based group. It cited past Pentagon statements the capability was limited only by the number of interceptors.
“If the president is told that the system could reliably defend against a North Korean ballistic missile attack, he might be willing to accept more risks when making policy and military decisions,” the report said.
“I actually worry that it’s worse than useless, that it’s really dangerous,” George Lewis, a report co-author who is associate director of the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told reporters at a briefing.
The General Accounting Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, said last month the system’s effectiveness would be “largely unproven” when it becomes operational.
The Pentagon estimates it will need $53 billion in the next five years to develop, field and upgrade a multilayered shield also involving systems based at sea, aboard modified Boeing 747 aircraft and in space.
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Commentary from Ed Mainland
FOR DANIEL OKRENT, OMBUDSMAN, NEW YORK TIMES
Can you tell us why this unarguably significant statement by American scientists on the administration’s missile shield fiasco was apparently omitted from NY Times coverage and other corporate media attention? If the durn thing won’t work, isn’t that news that’s fit to print — especially considering how much money is being wasted?
Partisans of the missile shield point to the project as a classic example of fanaticism: if it’s unworkable, throw more money at it and lie about its status. Or, when you find you’re going in the wrong direction, you double your speed….
Yours in the struggle against false consciousness:
Whited Sepulchre Foundation
(committed to bringing to popular awareness outstanding instances of false witnessing and hypocrisy among the scribes and Pharisees of our day in media, politics and public life)