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Congressional Research Service Skepticism On BMD Grows

"Analysis of flight test data shows that the U.S. effort to develop, test, and deploy effective BMD systems based on this concept has produced mixed and ambiguous results," Steven A Hildreth, a specialist in national defense in the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division of the Congressional Research Service, wrote. Even "The actual performance in war-time of one kinetic-energy system currently deployed by the United States (i.e., the Patriot PAC-3 - pictured deployed in Taiwan) is similarly ambiguous," he wrote.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Feb 08, 2007
The U.S. armed forces have demonstrated no learning curve in their development of kinetic energy interceptors to destroy incoming ballistic missiles, an updated congressional report claims. The report is entitled "Kinetic Energy Kill for Ballistic Missile Defense: A Status Overview." It was written by Steven A Hildreth, a specialist in national defense in the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division of the Congressional Research Service, and an updated version of his report was released on Jan. 5.

"U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs have focused primarily on developing kinetic energy interceptors to destroy attacking ballistic missiles ... over 30 years," Hildreth wrote. Yet, "... The data on the U.S. flight test effort to develop a national missile defense (NMD) system remains mixed and ambiguous."

"There is no recognizable pattern to explain this record nor is there conclusive evidence of a learning curve over more than two decades of developmental testing," he wrote. "In addition, the test scenarios are considered by some not to be operational tests and could be more realistic in nature; they see these tests as more of a laboratory or developmental effort.

"Analysis of flight test data shows that the U.S. effort to develop, test, and deploy effective BMD systems based on this concept has produced mixed and ambiguous results," Hildreth wrote. Even " The actual performance in war-time of one kinetic-energy system currently deployed by the United States (i.e., the Patriot PAC-3) is similarly ambiguous," he wrote.

"Further, it is not yet possible to assess the operational effectiveness the other deployed system (i.e., the National Defense System) against long-range ballistic missile threats," he wrote.

The current Ground Missile Defense program "began flight testing in 2002," Hildreth wrote. "Since that time six flight tests have taken place. Five of these flight tests were planned intercept attempts, with three resulting in failure to intercept."

"Officials concluded that about 80 percent of the program's 40 or so primary intercept flight test objectives were met; all the secondary objectives were met fully or partially," he wrote. "In 2004, the GMD undertook a new configuration with a different booster and interceptor. It flew a successful integration flight test (non-intercept test) in early 2004 with all primary and secondary objectives met."

"This system was deployed in Alaska and California in 2004 and declared operational after eight missiles were placed in silos. Subsequently, two planned intercept flight tests in December 2004 and February 2005 failed to launch," the report continued.

Therefore, "The currently deployed system thus remains to be tested successfully against targets it might be expected to intercept," Hildreth concluded.

"In September 2006, a successful flight test exercise of the GMD system too place. Although not a primary CRS-4 objective of the data collection test, an intercept of the target warhead was achieved," he wrote.

"There do not appear to be any recognizable patterns that emerge to account for the mostly unsuccessful history of the effort. Nor is there conclusive evidence of a learning curve, such as increased success over time relative to the first tests of the concept 20 years ago," the CRS report said.

"Program supporters can point to limited evidence that, under controlled conditions, there is reason to support the contention that kinetic energy interceptor technology for use against long-range ballistic missiles holds promise," Hildreth acknowledged.

However, "Critics of the flight test effort to date, whether they support missile defense or not in general, can raise questions about the success rate and the realism of the testing effort, given a generation of U.S. investment in its development," he continued.

"Can kinetic energy interceptor technologies for use against long-range ballistic missiles be developed successfully and deployed as an effective part of the U.S. military posture?" Hildreth asked. "The answer appears to be ambiguous at this juncture."

"Can the now deployed NMD system protect the United States from long-range ballistic missile attacks? Currently, there is insufficient empirical data to support a clear answer," he concluded.

The release of the updated version of Hildreth's report appears timed to catch the eye of the new Democratic masters of the recently-elected 110th Congress.

The first three Republican-controlled Congresses of President George W. Bush's time in office uncritically voted through the enormous appropriations he requested for the crash development of BMD systems to protect the United States against individual or small numbers of intercontinental ballistic missiles launched by so-called "rogue" states. However, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the new chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, has said he will scrutinize the BMD budget far more closely to make sure that it is focused and spent on relevant and effective programs.

A major new debate on the effectiveness of BMD and on future strategies in its budget priorities is about to start. Hildreth's report should be seen as one of the opening shots in that struggle.

Source: United Press International

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