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Bush Silent On BMD Success

file photo.
by Martin Sieff, UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Feb 02, 2006
It was, as Sherlock Holmes famously said, "The dog that did not bark in the night." For five years ballistic missile defense has been one of the most expensive, controversial and ambitious programs pursued by the Bush administration.

Yet after a breakthrough year of successful tests, increased weapons and radar deployments with more major nations than ever around the world committing billions of dollars to buy U.S. systems and develop complementary defense systems on BMD, President George W. Bush did not say a word about any of it in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Why not?

Bush's reticence was in striking contrast to the outspoken confidence of the leader of the world's other major thermonuclear global power about his new missiles. On the same day Bush gave his State of the Union address, President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced at a news conference that Russia had successfully developed and tested a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could punch through any ABM system in the world. That would include even America's, the most advanced one.

Putin's statement was not news to anyone who has followed Russian ICBM tests and developments over the past year, as we have done in these columns. But it was striking that he should have come out and said it so explicitly with all the weight and prestige of the Russian presidency.

Ironically, the U.S. system is not designed to defend against full-scale attack by the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces -- the most destructive military power in the history of the human race with the possible exception of America's Strategic Air Command at the height of its powers and capabilities during the Cold War.

The new systems of ground-base, midcourse interceptors deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and of Aegis missile cruisers and destroyers on station in the Pacific are expressly designed to defend against missile attacks by so-called "rogue states" like North Korea and China, not against the SRF.

However, as William D. Hartung, senior research fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York noted, the new Russian ICBMs and their multi-targeted independent vehicle (MIRV) warheads are expressly " designed to penetrate the U.S. system."

Nevertheless, 2005 was the year when, more than ever before, the American BMD system finally moved after nearly a quarter of a century from the realm of "Star Wars" visionary fantasy to that of hard military and engineering fact.

As we have previously reported in BMD Focus and its sister BMD Watch columns, 2005 was the year when:

-- Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pushed through the institutionalization of Japan's high-tech BMD cooperation with the United States in a series of hugely ambitious projects, including the purchase of more than $1 billion worth of U.S.-built Standard Missile 3s.

-- India signed a far-reaching series of strategic accords with the United States that included joint cooperation on ballistic missile defense.

-- Israel's Arrow anti-ballistic missile interceptor, developed in partnership with Boeing, successfully carried out its most ambitious test yet, intercepting a missile configured to follow the flight path of an Iranian Shahib-3 intermediate ballistic missile.

-- The U.S. Missile Defense Agency conducted a successful Aegis intercept test in November and a successful THAAD flight test the same month. And on Dec. 13, it celebrated a successful flight test of the operational configuration of the controversial Ground-Based Mid-Course Interceptor.

-- The MDA successfully acquired and tracked ICBMs with its Forward-Based X-Band radar. It tested its Cobra Dane radar against an air-launched target and achieved an intercept solution generated and processed by our fire control system.

-- It achieved high-power radiation with successful tests in the Gulf of Mexico of its enormous Sea-Based X-Band radar currently in transit to southern Alaska. And it added four Aegis Long-Range Surveillance and Tracking destroyers to its force making 10 in all deployed so far.

-- It also added a second Aegis engagement cruiser to its force and emplaced two more Ground-Based Midcourse Interceptors at Fort Greely, making eight there with two additional interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

-- The MDA's Airborne Laser achieved full duration lase at operational power and completed the initial flight tests of its beam control, fire control system on a Boeing 747.

Why was none of this in the president's speech? Was it because it cost too much? Was it because, as Hartung noted, "The billions lavished on missile defense could be much better spent on protecting U.S. ports and chemical plants, or on increased investments in locking down loose nuclear weapons and nuclear bomb-making materials in Russia and beyond."

But although these are legitimate arguments, they have yet to find significant political traction with the American public and the president's political strategists in the White House have not been much bothered by them before.

Was it because Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's star appears to be setting west of the Pentagon, with the huge building now on a political death watch for him and thousands of its occupants speculating whether Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, the current front-runner, will step into his shoes, or whether the president will reach out to Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the other most predicted candidate, or some dark horse?

There is likely some truth to this. Rumsfeld was the great cheerleader of BMD. His successor is going to far more immediately concerned finding real ways to make progress against the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, or reduce U.S. casualties and troop presence there, or both; or with prosecuting a possible full-scale war with Iran.

Still, BMD was Rumsfeld's passion and it will certainly continue unabated after he has gone. Deployment of even the failure-plagued Ground-Based Mid-Course Interceptors will be completed as planned, and senior Missile Defense Agency officers have told UPI they are confident that the engineering glitches that made failures of three of its previous tests have been overcome.

With Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary for Policy Douglas Feith both gone from the Pentagon last year, the Ground-Based Mid-Course Interceptor program lost two of its biggest boosters, but it was also freed of their frenzied pressure to deploy without adequate components testing that was the main cause of the test failures.

However, Bush in his State of the Union speech, seemed far more engaged with things that have never happened and may never do so than even with tangible successes in fields he has previously boosted like BMD. The keynote theme of his speech was waging a war on all existing tyrannies in the world: He added three new nations to the list of tyrannies the United States was determined to oppose and transform: Zimbabwe, Syria and Burma. None of them could remotely pose any ballistic missile threat to the United States.

It may be that Bush was suffering from a political form of Attention Deficit Disorder on Tuesday night. After all, he made no reference at all to the rebuilding of New Orleans, which he promised after its catastrophic flooding last summer. Nor did he make any reference to the ambitious Moon and Mars human exploration program he announced to so much fanfare a year ago.

Bush's silence on BMD Tuesday night should not be interpreted as any weakening of political will or presaging any major cutback in resources on deploying it. But it seemed like a curiously negligent self-inflicted political wound. 2005 was BMD's banner year so far: One would have thought Bush would seek to shore up his crumbing popularity and credibility figures by trumpeting its real successes, yet it did not do so. Clearly sometimes disasters and failures are more politically hot than real achievement, even in defending the country.

Source: United Press International

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