Missile Defense Prepped; Kim Yawns

ft04_1_5.jpgSo the U.S. has decided to turn on its Alaska-based missile defense system, in response to North Korea's impending launch. Kim Jong-il ain't exactly quaking in his boots, I imagine.The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system hasn't successfully intercepted a missile since October of 2002. Five of its last ten flight tests, it flunked. And the last two times it tried to hit an oncoming missile, the interceptor didn't even leave the ground. Things have gotten so bad that the Missile Defense Agency's independent review team concluded last year that more tests may only undermine the GMD's value as a deterrent. (Here's a comprehensive list of all of the GMD tests -- past, current, and future -- from the Center for Defense Information.)Missile defense backers might point to a positive-sounding test run in April. But that was just a "data collection" flight. "No interceptor missiles were used," CDI notes.UPDATE 01:42 PM: "This 'missile defense system initiated' shit is the biggest yawner of a story all day," says one knowledgeable source. "I'm exaggerating... but it takes approximately two seconds to flip those sorties to operational."The source also wonders whether the North Koreans are really planning to launch a "missile," at all. What if it's a small satellite they're trying to get into orbit, instead? [The South Koreans seem to be asking the same question.]Lastly, the source wonders whether the U.S. would even be willing to launch a missile interceptor, given the system's uneven track record. "What message do we send if we miss?" he asks.UPDATE 5:38 PM: Joe Cirincione reminds us that the North Koreans ain't exactly master missileers. "The last time they fired a long-range missile was in 1998, it went about 1300 killometers and failed to put its tiny payload into orbit," he says.UPDATE 5:58 PM: The Nelson Report thinks it's all a PR stunt. "if theres one thing all analysts of N. Korea agree on, its that Dear Leader Kim Jong-il just loves being the center of attention. By that criteria, the so far big non-event of the week...an alleged Taepodong-2 ICBM test...is already a HUGE success."UPDATE 6:13 PM: Some have suggested that if the GMD interceptors in Alaska aren't working, then U.S. forces will used the sea-based, Aegis system to knock down a Korean launch.Not likely.The Aegis is designed to "detect, track, intercept, and destroy Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs) to Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs)," according to the military. Long-range, intercontinental ballistic missiles -- which fly higher than SRBMs and IRBMs -- won't be touched by the Aegis, unfortunately. Besides, the Aegis' SM-3 interceptors don't have the oomph to take down an ICBM.What the Aegis cruisers can do is track the bigger missiles, to help the interceptors in Alaska. But that's about it.UPDATE 8:38 PM: If you're looking for an article that's either flat wrong or misleading on just about every aspect of missile defense -- from Airborne Lasers to so-called Taepodong-2s to Aegis interceptors, this right here would be your story.

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