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FAITH-BASED MISSILE DEFENSE

taurus3.jpgEarly in his administration, President Bush put a whole lot of stock in "faith-based" initiatives to solve domestic problems. Now, the President seems to be taking the same approach to military matters.Yesterday, President Bush campaigned at a Boeing plant, promoting his missile defense system, due to come on line shortly. "We say to those tyrants who believe they can blackmail America and the free world, 'You fire, we're going to shoot it down,'" he said.But there's a teeny-tiny problem with this bold declaration: no one knows whether it's true or not. The anti-missile system's effectiveness is a matter of faith, not evidence. Because, in a rush to ready the system before the election, the Defense Department scrapped some of the $10 billion per year program's most important tests. And the results the Pentagon does have are murky, at best."Thomas P. Christie, director of the Pentagon's office of Operational Test and Evaluation, said a shortage of testing data would likely make it difficult for him to assess the system's effectiveness ahead of any deployment this year," the Washington Post noted earlier this year. "He expressed concern about the small number and relatively simple nature of flight tests, noting they have used the same course each time and have relied on surrogates and prototypes for key elements still under development."Slate's Fred Kaplan translates:

In the past six years of flight tests, here is what the Pentagon's missile-defense agency has demonstrated: A missile can hit another missile in mid-air as long as a) the operators know exactly where the target missile has come from and where it's going; b) the target missile is flying at a slower-than-normal speed; c) it's transmitting a special beam that exaggerates its radar signature, thus making it easier to track; d) only one target missile has been launched; and e) the "attack" happens in daylight.
Phillip Coyle, Christie's predecessor, put it more succinctly: the system is "simply not up to the job," he said.Now, some might argue that merely having some deterrent to, say, North Korean missiles -- no matter how half-assed -- is better than nothing. Which would be true. If Pyongyang was worried at all that the thing might work. But if the Pentagon's own testing chiefs aren't convinced, what are the chances that the North Koreans are?The situation isn't likely to change any time soon. The next stages of the Pentagon's missile defense plan call for building defenses that can catch enemy rockets before they take off. But in a study last year, the American Physical Society said that couldn't be done with current or near-term American anti-missile technology.So it's no surprise that when the Defense Department tried to show off its anti-missile training program to reporters earlier this year, the wargame had to be rigged in order for the good guys to win.
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