San Diego Union Tribune

May 14, 2004

Scientists doubt missile shield's ability to work
Defense system set to debut this year


WASHINGTON The multibillion-dollar U.S. ballistic missile shield due to begin operations late this year appears incapable of shooting down any incoming warheads, an independent scientists' group said yesterday.

"The administration's claims that the defense (system) will be highly effective are false and irresponsible," said Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of the group's Global Security Program.

Two senior Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a House member who is a physicist with a background in arms control endorsed the group's critical report and said the rush to deploy the untested missile defense system has more to do with politics than national security.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, director of the Missile Defense Agency, has conceded that developmental testing will continue long after the system becomes operational in September, with installation of at least five interceptor missiles at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Nonetheless, Kadish said that when those initial missiles are in place, "if a warhead is shot at the 50 United States, we'll be able to shoot back."

Gronlund and Philip Coyle, the Defense Department's top weapons tester from 1994 to 2001, said Kadish's claim assumes an effectiveness that has never been demonstrated in more than two decades of research and testing and more than $70 billion in spending.

"The ability to protect the whole United States is based on computer simulation that assumes everything works perfectly," Coyle told a news briefing. "They haven't been able to protect Kwajalein," he added, referring to the Pacific atoll that is part of the missile test range.

The attempt to build a system to protect the nation from nuclear-armed ballistic missiles has been a controversial political and scientific issue since President Reagan announced the goal of an infallible missile shield in 1983.

Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative envisioned a largely space-based system and was quickly labeled "Star Wars" by opponents.

The program has survived, with multiple modifications, through three subsequent administrations, despite widespread opposition and repeated test failures.

On Dec. 17, 2002, President Bush ordered the Defense Department to deploy an operational defense this year.

In a detailed report released yesterday, the scientists noted there has never been an integrated test of all the components of what is supposed to be the operational defense system.

In fact, they said, the planned three-stage interceptor rocket and the ground and space-based missile-tracking radars still are being developed. And all of the intercept flight tests have been "highly scripted" events that did not include the decoys expected with an actual enemy missile.

Asked if the missile defense system would ever be effective, Coyle noted that his successor in the testing office, Thomas Christie, recently said the tests so far have provided "no basis to judge that the system has any capability."

Reuters contributed to this report.