While the world is focusing on negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, where do things stand on the other piece of the puzzle, the Iranian space-launch and missile program? Read More
November 22nd, 2013
For a host of reasons, building a new “East Coast” missile defense site is a poor use of resources, with even the Missile Defense Agency saying it would use any additional funds for something else. The price tag for building and operating a new site for five years would be about $3.6 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Read More
November 7th, 2013
For the second year, missile defense supporters in the House of Representatives are seeking funding to build a new site for the U.S. Ground Based Midcourse (GMD) missile defense system. The aim is to place interceptors at a site near the east coast, in addition to the current sites in Alaska and California, to engage a potential future missile attack from Iran.
We just posted a short background paper that explains the problems with this plan. These include:
- the Pentagon has not asked for this money, nor has it made a decision that a new deployment site is desirable
- the Pentagon continues to struggle to get the basic GMD technology to work reliably, so it makes little sense to deploy it at another site
- even if these technical problems are surmounted, the system available now and in foreseeable future can at best only counter a rudimentary missile threat, one that is not accompanied by decoys and other countermeasures. Interceptors from Alaska could engage these missiles so an east coast site would not be needed.
- against this rudimentary threat, an east coast site would not improve effectiveness, but at most would improve efficiency, allowing the United States to potentially fire fewer interceptors at an incoming missile
- a new site would cost an estimated $3.6 billion to build and operate over the first five years, which makes little sense in the current budget-constrained environment.
September 27th, 2013
September 17th, 2013
In 2012, Congress demanded the Pentagon come up with recommendations for the location of a third site to base interceptors for the U.S. Ground Based Midcourse (GMD) missile defense system. So far no money has been appropriated for building a site (nor even for the next step in the study, an Environmental Impact Assessment of the top three candidates), nor has the Pentagon asked for any.
June 28th, 2013
June 5th, 2013
April 29th, 2013
Last week, the Pentagon released an unclassified summary of its Annual Report on Military Power of Iran, dated January 13. Inside Defense wrote a story on it, “DOD: Iran, With Foreign Help, Could Demonstrate ICBM By 2015”. The story focuses on the report’s conclusion that
With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States by 2015.
This conclusion is only slightly modified from the April 2012 Report, a year ago, which concluded
With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015.
This change seems intended to clarify its assessment since technically the term “intercontinental ballistic missile” means one with a range of more than 5,500 km, while Iran would need a missile with range of over 10,000 km to reach population centers in the U.S.
The article made something of the apparent contradiction of the DOD report with a December 2012 assessment of Iran’s ballistic missile program by Steven Hildreth for the Congressional Research Service. Hildreth writes:
It is increasingly uncertain whether Iran will be able to achieve an ICBM capability by 2015 for several reasons. Iran does not appear to be receiving the degree of foreign support many believe would be necessary, Iran has found it increasingly difficult to acquire certain critical components and materials because of sanctions, and Iran has not demonstrated the kind of flight-test program many view as necessary to produce an ICBM.
There is mounting evidence to suggest that, whereas the sanctions regime has not prevented Tehran from operating an increased number of centrifuges for uranium-enrichment activities or adding to its stockpile of fissile material, it has stymied efforts to develop and produce the long-range ballistic missiles capable of striking potential targets in western Europe and beyond.
Is this really a contradiction? While the Pentagon’s approach to assessing Iran’s ballistic missile program has changed over the years, the above Pentagon reports estimate the shortest timeline for Iran to acquire an ICBM capability, under the best conditions—in this case, with “sufficient foreign assistance.” What that assistance might consist of is not provided in the unclassified summaries. The CRS and IISS reports instead talk in specifics about what kind of foreign support Iran might actually be getting and how that might realistically affect its timeline.
To those accustomed to thinking in math terms, the Pentagon appears to be giving the “lower bound” of when Iran might achieve ICBM capability, not assessing the most likely value. That’s one useful piece of information, but not the whole picture.
March 18th, 2013
Last week, Jay Carney, the White House spokesperson, stated in a press conference, “I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack.” The confidence in that statement was reinforced by the White House announcement that it would add 14 more interceptors to the Ground-based Midcourse (GMD) missile defense system to buck up that capability to defend against North Korean missiles. Read More
February 4th, 2013