Los Angeles Times on the status of US missile defense
A few days before the last successful test, 15 June, the American edition of the Los Angeles Times published an article by journalist David Willman with a loud headline $ 40-billion missile defense system proves unreliable ("The missile defense system worth 40 billion dollars showed its unreliability"). As the name implies, the author of the publication summed up the interim results of the many years of work of several large companies, and these results cannot be considered positive even in the light of the tests that took place eight days after the article was published.
At the beginning of his review of the situation, D. Willman recalled the previous tests of the American missile defense system. He recalled how the 31 of January 2010, a GBI interceptor rocket, belching flames, roared off Vanderberg base (California) and headed towards a conventional target. The testers were aware of the exact time of launch of the target rocket, its speed, flight path and other parameters. Based on this data, the interceptor flight path was developed. Within a few minutes of the anti-missile, it accelerated to a speed of 4 miles per second and headed for the target. The anti-missile did not hit the target. Tests worth about 200 million dollars failed.
Through 11 months, the ABM Agency conducted new tests that also did not end with the destruction of a conditional target. The next unsuccessful launch of an experienced interceptor missile took place on July 5 2013.
The GMD ABM Development Program is being developed to protect the US from threats from "rogue states" such as Iran or the DPRK. However, the LA Times journalist sums up, after 10 years after the launch and investment of 40 billion dollars, the United States still cannot rely on its new anti-missile shield, which is not yet able to work effectively even in the face of tests with a predetermined scenario. Thus, in recent years, the Missile Defense Agency has conducted 16 anti-missile tests, half of which ended with the successful interception of a training target.
According to D. Willman, despite all the promises of contractors about the shortcomings being corrected, the effectiveness of the GMD complex only decreases when compared with the 1999-2004 tests. After the introduction of the missile defense system in operation in the 2004 year, eight tests were conducted, but only in three anti-missile missiles completed the task. The last successful interception (as of the moment of publication of the article in the LA Times) was 5 December 2008 of the year.
The active deployment of the components of the GMD system was launched in 2002 year after the relevant order of US President George W. Bush. Such a rush affected the efficiency of the system. D. Willman refers to an unnamed high-ranking military official who worked under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. This Pentagon officer claims that the existing missile defense system is still unreliable, and in fact, a prototype of the complex was put into operation in 2004. This was done solely for political reasons. At that moment, the specialists did not know what needs to be finalized or changed, and their only task was to build the elements of the system.
The LA Times article also contains the words of another specialist. A staff member at the Livermore National Laboratory, Dean A. Wilkening, speaking at a recent conference, called the GMD system a prototype and noted that her condition is worse than everyone could hope for. In addition, Wilkening warned everyone about the possible consequences: if the GMD system in its current state is planned to be used in practice, then one should not be surprised if the unfortunate outcome will exceed all negative expectations. In another speech, Dean A. Wilkening described the test results in one word: “terrible” (abysmal).
Apparently, in their previous statements, US officials seriously overestimated the capabilities of the missile defense system. So, at meetings in Congress, representatives of the Pentagon regularly said that no more than three antimissiles would be required to defeat one enemy warhead. In 2003, Deputy Defense Secretary Edward S. Aldridge Jr. argued that the effectiveness of the GMD system would reach 90%. In 2007, the head of the United States Northern Command, Admiral of the Navy, Timothy J. Keating, spoke in the Senate. He spoke with great confidence about the high effectiveness of the antimissile system.
However, now the author of the publication $ 40-billion missile defense system proves unreliable does not agree with the forecasts of officials. He believes that the test results do not allow to speak about the high efficiency of the built missile defense system. In accordance with the available forecasts, to hit one enemy warhead, GMD calculations will have to be launched before the GBN 4-5 missiles. The system currently has 30 interceptor missiles (4 in Vanderberg and 26 in Fort Greeley, Alaska). This means that only a few enemy missiles are capable of overloading the GMD complex, forcing it to expend all antimissiles on duty, and literally pierce the antimissile shield. The likelihood of a defense breakthrough increases if an enemy rocket carries false targets that can divert anti-missiles.
Despite the existing problems, influential forces continue to insist on the construction of new facilities, including launching pits for interceptor missiles. Several leading US companies are interested in multi-billion dollar contracts. So, Boeing develops and builds missile defense facilities, and Raytheon produces kinetic interceptors for antimissiles. Several thousand jobs in five states directly or indirectly depend on the GMD program.
D. Willman recalls that initially the administration of the current President B. Obama spoke about maintaining the number of anti-missile systems at the current level. However, it is now proposed to increase the number of GBI missiles on duty. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposes to deploy additional 2017 interceptors by 14.
The LA Times journalist was unable to get a comment from the Missile Defense Agency, so he had to quote the press service of this organization. Currently, the Agency, according to official information, is testing various systems and is working to improve the reliability of the entire complex. The head of the ABM Agency, Vice-Admiral James D. Siring recently spoke at the Senate Subcommittee and said that the reasons for the last two unsuccessful launches have already been identified. The detected deficiencies of the systems will be corrected by the end of the year.
The author of the article “The missile defense system worth 40 billions of dollars showed its insecurity” recalled some of the features of the GMD project. North Korean or Iranian ballistic missiles must fly to targets in the United States along the shortest route - with the intersection of the Arctic Circle. They are proposed to destroy approximately in the middle of the route, because of which the term Midcourse is present in the name of the system. Such an interception of a ballistic missile is an extremely difficult task, which can be compared with an attempt to hit one bullet into another.
The “bullet” of the GBI rocket is the EKV (Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle) module of one and a half meters length and a weight of 68 kg. The EKV module is launched by a rocket into the transatmospheric space, where it is independently guided to the attacked warhead and hits it by direct collision. The kinetic EKV interceptor has about a thousand details in its composition and the failure of each of them can disrupt the entire interception costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.
D. Willman recalls that the main concept in the defense and aerospace industries previously was the idea of Fly, then buy (“Fly, then buy”), in accordance with which customers had to wait for the completion of the tests. In the case of the GMD system, the US leadership decided to use the opposite principle: “Buy, then fly.” Moreover, at the beginning of the two thousandth years, the then American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld released the ABM Agency from all standard procurement and tendering procedures. The agency was able to quickly purchase all the necessary and carry out the necessary work.
At the time of the official launch of the PRO system, the EKV modules of the GBI interceptor missiles were not ready for testing. The first test run using the experienced EKV occurred only in September 2006 of the year - i.e. two years after the start of the deployment of the GMD system. Another problem associated with transatmospheric interceptors is the approach to production. Because of the manual assembly, the EKV modules are different, and the correction of one such product from the test results does not solve problems with others. An increase in production rates will only worsen this situation.
According to D. Willman, about a third of the EKV modules of the GBI missiles (the exact number is unknown) currently on duty belong to a modification that failed the tests in the 2010 year. At the same time, according to the information of unnamed specialists related to the project, they still cannot intercept the targets. Finally, determining the causes of failure is difficult because experienced interceptors burn in the atmosphere or fall into the ocean. Some problems may be related to malfunctions of the control systems of the EKV module, which, in turn, are caused by vibrations during the flight of an interceptor missile.
The elimination of existing deficiencies may take several years, although there are already some successes. According to the Missile Defense Agency, in January 2013, a GBI rocket test was launched, during which no disturbing vibrations were observed. However, experts still have to admit that the manual assembly of EKV modules does not allow us to consider a single test as confirmation of the effectiveness of all antimissiles, including under conditions of real interception.
Over the past few years, various components of the GMD anti-missile complex have shown their capabilities, as well as demonstrated the existing shortcomings. This year marks 10 years since the official launch of the GBI system and missiles. Nevertheless, even now, after investing about 40 billions of dollars, the anti-missile system does not meet the requirements of the customer and is almost incapable of performing its task in terms of actual use against enemy ballistic missiles.
This means that the Pentagon and the Missile Defense Agency will have to continue work on fine-tuning and improving the GMD system, and Congress will have to add new items to the budget for the development of the project. Thus, it can be assumed that David Willman’s article “The missile defense system worth 40 billion dollars showed its unreliability” will not be the last publication describing the problems of the Agency on missile defense and its projects.
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