National missile defense technology still falls short.

Author:Gard, Robert G., Jr.

The United States has been attempting to develop a workable national missile defense capability since 1944, prompted initially by German V-2 ballistic missile attacks in Europe during World War II. The most recent initiative is the ground-based midcourse defense system, referred to as GMD, intended to defend against a limited attack by one or two intercontinental ballistic missiles launched by a rogue state, specifically North Korea or Iran.

In 1995, a U.S. national intelligence estimate stated that no country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, would develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the next 15 years that could threaten the contiguous 48 states and Canada.

Nevertheless, a congressionally mandated independent commission, chaired by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, issued a report in July 1998 that was more consistent with alarming assumptions held by advocates of national missile defense. It concluded that North Korea and Iran could develop the capability to strike the United States within five years of a decision to pursue ballistic missile technology.

This was reinforced by Iran's launch two weeks later of the Shahab-3 missile, with a range of 1,000 kilometers, and by North Korea's launch the following month of a Taepo Dong 1 missile with a solid fueled third stage booster.

In January 1999, Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced full funding for development of a national missile defense system, with potential deployment in 2005. Congress then passed the National Missile Defense Act, which was signed by the president in July 1999. It says it is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an "effective" missile defense system.

An evaluation conducted in 2000 by an independent review team, chaired by retired Air Force Gen. Larry Welch, called for seven more flight tests prior to a production decision.

The incoming Bush administration, with Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, urged much faster deployment. On Dec.

13, 2001, President Bush gave Russia the required six-month notice to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. In his January 2002 state of the union address, Bush anointed Iran and North Korea, along with Iraq, as members of an "axis of evil," alleging their intent to pursue weapons of mass destruction. He ordered in December 2002 the deployment of an initial operating capability of interceptors two years later, and extended the scope of U.S. missile defense to a comprehensive, integrated, layered program to protect allies as well as deployed U.S. forces.

Meanwhile, in January 2002, Rumsfeld converted the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization to the Missile Defense Agency, with remarkable independent authority. MDA was accorded flexibility to establish its own requirements and manage its own acquisitions, without having to analyze costs or examine alternative military capabilities.

The short deadline...

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