Recently, the Pentagon announced that four of five sites that had been identified as candidates for a possible new missile defense site would be moving on to the next step and getting Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)– Camp Ravenna, Ohio; Fort Custer, Michigan; Fort Drum, New York; and Portsmouth SERE Training Area, near Rangeley, Maine. Read More
December 20th, 2013
The final defense authorization bill that passed the Senate late last night includes none of $140 million sought by the House to begin deployment of a new missile defense site that its supporters claim will better defend the eastern United States. The House demanded the Pentagon build a new site by 2018 and authorized $140 million to get started, though the Pentagon hasn’t even made a decision that a new site is desirable. This final outcome is very good news; if you’re just tuning in now, a new site on the East Coast is a poor use of resources and would improve neither the effectiveness nor the reliability of the Ground Based Midcourse (GMD) missile defense system. 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.
October 11th, 2013
Bradley Roberts, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy in the Obama administration, comments on strategic stability with China during a presentation at the Stimson Center on 26 August 2013. Video courtesy of C-Span.
The United States is vulnerable to a Chinese nuclear strike. Admitting this reality should not be seen as a diplomatic favor to the Chinese, but as a prerequisite for prudent U.S. defense policy. Read More
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 5th, 2013
April 4th, 2013
Since North Korea’s missiles are in the news and seem to be generating confusion, I’m giving here my understanding of where these various systems stand, based in part of my modeling of their capabilities. Read More
March 27th, 2013
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin included the following short paragraph on missile defense in a lengthy joint statement that covered a wide variety of other topics. It appeared in the section of the statement devoted to international affairs.
“With a view towards the historical experience and practice of building a new type of great power relations, and with a sense of historic responsibility for world peace and humanity’s future, the two sides call on all nations of the world to … deepen mutual understanding, coordination and cooperation on the question of missile defenses, urge members of international society to be prudent on the issues of deploying and beginning cooperation on missile defenses, and oppose one country or group of countries unilaterally and unlimitedly strengthening missile defenses, harming strategic stability and international security. We stand for the collective confrontation of the challenges and threats from ballistic missiles, preferring to confront the proliferation of ballistic missiles within the framework of international law and political diplomacy, where the security of one group of nations cannot be sacrificed at the expense of another group of nations.”
The language echoes past statements issued by Russia and China, which are concerned about the intentions driving what, from their perspective, appears to be massive U.S. fiscal and technical investments in a highly questionable technology. Neither country is particularly concerned about the technical capabilities of the currently deployed or tested missile defense technologies. Experts in both countries understand the vulnerabilities of these systems. What worries defense planners here in China, and presumably in Russia, is the almost fanatical U.S. devotion to missile defense technology. Political and military leaders see the monies spent, not the technology they have actually purchased, as sufficient cause to wonder if some surprising new breakthrough might be on the horizon. Otherwise, my Chinese interlocutors routinely ask, why would the United States be wasting so much money on it, especially in a time of supposed fiscal austerity?
The persistence of Chinese concerns about U.S. missile defense plans cannot be assuaged by pointing out the technical limitations of the current systems. They know them already. The Obama administration should stop lecturing and start listening to what the Chinese are actually saying, which is that they don’t want to wake up one day and suddenly find themselves vulnerable to a U.S. first strike. It isn’t the reality of missile defense, but the U.S. dream of missile defense, that keeps Chinese military planners up at night.
Chinese analysts are not assured their U.S. counterparts accept the idea of mutual vulnerability between the United States and China, which is the basis of deterrence. That leads to concerns that the level of U.S. commitment to missile defense, which China believes is higher than is justified by the North Korean and Iranian threats, is credible evidence this massive, decades-old defense effort is actually focused on them.
March 22nd, 2013
Thirty years ago tomorrow—March 23, 1983—President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech spawned an enthusiasm for missile defense that even today dominates defense discussions in Washington. Much has changed in those 30 years, so where are we? Read More