Value of European Missile Defense Questioned

A number of independent assessments have highlighted the cost and questioned the effectiveness of U.S. missile defense systems proposed for deployment in Europe, USA Today reported yesterday (see GSN, March 10).

It would cost between $9 billion and $13 billion to field a radar in the Czech Republic and 10 missile interceptors in Poland, the Congressional Budget Office found, adding that the European system would not protect the entire continent against Iranian missiles. The United States in the last 24 years has spent $144 billion on programs to defend the country against missile threats, according to the agency.

"Some observers continue to question how much confidence there should be in the system's potential operational or combat effectiveness based on the types of tests conducted and the test results to date," the Congressional Research Service said in January.

The Defense Department acknowledges that interceptors like those intended for Poland have missed their targets five times in 13 tests. The testing program has faced scheduling problems and "performance challenges," according to the Government Accountability Office, which has also questioned the ability of the missile defense system to overcome decoys.

Balloons or other unsophisticated decoys could be used to defeat the missile defense system, said David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Do I believe with any confidence that this system would be able to stop a nuclear attack? The answer is no," he said.

Tests to date "have all been scripted for success," said former top Pentagon weapons tester Philip Coyle. "It's a little bit like comparing the results of students doing open book exams."

U.S. Missile Defense Agency spokesman Richard Lehner countered that the tests are "as operationally realistic as possible."

The Obama administration has not yet formally announced whether it would move ahead with the Bush administration initiative. However, Washington has been trying to strengthen relations with Russia, which has fiercely opposed the plan.

The system should not yet be counted out, though, said defense analyst John Pike: "I have a little difficulty believing that the whole damn thing is so manifestly a fool's errand" (Ken Dilanian, USA Today, March 15).

March 16, 2009
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A number of independent assessments have highlighted the cost and questioned the effectiveness of U.S. missile defense systems proposed for deployment in Europe, USA Today reported yesterday (see GSN, March 10).