The most successful part of the star-crossed missile defense system has been the one based at sea. So, naturally, the Pentagon has decided to cut the program's budget, Defense Daily reports.Launched from cruisers off the Hawaiian coast, the Standard Missile-3 interceptors have managed to hit their targets in five out of six recent tests. Land-based anti-missiles, on the other hand, couldn't even make it into the air during two recent exercises over the winter.But never mind all that. The sea-based interceptors have been slated for a $95 million cut. That could keep a key signal processor from coming on line, which might "set back the whole program at least a year," Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) complained in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. (Here's the transcript.) "Why are we setting aside such a successful program, where the outcome is almost predictable, and spending it on other, riskier programs?"See if you can find the thread of logic in this answer from Missile Defense Agency chief Lt. Gen "Trey" Obering. Becasue I sure can't.
Well, let me get to the -- first of all, the program has been very successful in the testing that we have done to date.Now, one of the things we have not done yet is fly against a separating [warhead one that detaches from the main body of the missile]. And that is something that we do need to do because that represents the lion's share of the threats that we may be facing around the world.And the reason that we haven't done that is because, if you recall, the one failure that we did have in the test program had to do with the [malfunction of the] divert attitude control system that we would need for a separating warhead.And we have not completely fixed that yet in the program. We're still going through the ground testing for a new design to validate that we do have a fix. We think we have identified the root cause of that and we've taken steps to address that.But that's why we don't have a more robust profile, either in testing or in our production profile, because we haven't jumped all those technical hurdles yet. But we are in the process of doing that."Would it improve the program if you got your signal processor?" Inouye responds.Obering replies, "Yes, sir, it would."So Obering is worried his sea-based missiles can't hit separating warheads, therefore he's scaling the project back. But his land-based missiles can't hit anything at all -- so he's going full steam ahead with those. WTF?!?!?THERE'S MORE: "Obering basically admitted that while the Aegis system may be progressing along its development path, it still cannot defend U.S. interests against the threat for which it was designed," says Center for Defense Information missile guru Victoria Samson.
Minus the SDACS (solid divert and attitude control system), which allows it more maneuverability, the Aegis BMD [sea-based ballistic missile defense] system cannot reliably intercept threat missiles with separating warheads, which, to Obering's own admission, represent "the lion's share of the threats that we may be facing around the world."Which puts the so-called success of the Aegis BMD system in a different light.AND MORE: Meanwhile, Defense Daily notes, one of missile defense' main cheerleaders in the Senate is calling for big changes in the interceptor effort. His suggestion: weapons in space that can knock down missiles in their "boost phase" just as they take off. "We should begin the process of developing a space-based boost phase capability," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said.
There is no money in the current budget, or in next years request, for space-based systems, and Kyl bemoaned the fact that MDA is not expected to begin any development work on such programs until FY 08. Everyone knows thats where we have to go, Kyl said.Its the political arguments that restrain us, he said, adding that advocates must push the case for a space-based system.In the 1980s, the Pentagon backed a space-based interceptor program known as Brilliant Pebbles that envisioned placing thousands of interceptors in outer space. Opponents ridiculed the concept, which became a lightning rod for criticism.Obering also brought up space-based interceptors during his Senate testimony.
There are a lot of technical challenges that we need to address. And I think that while it is important to have the debate on the philosophical advantage and strategy of having space-based interceptors, it would be prudent to lay in a technical experimentation program to see if we can even do that."To my knowledge, that's the first time that someone from MDA has admitted that they may be breaking new ground with the SBI system and therefore should discuss the ramifications of doing so," Samson says. "Previously, Obering has been very careful to couch his remarks in the technical challenges to SBI, not the philosophical ones."