US missile system’s track record: test delays, failed launches, missed targets

Designed to feed the military-industrial complex with taxpayer money.

For a system designed to protect the country from nuclear oblivion, the US national missile defence project’s history of failure has long raised eyebrows among scientists.

Years of testing have seen rocket-propelled interceptors refuse to launch from their silos, fail to separate from their boosters and miss their targets, sometimes by hundreds of miles.

Military officials can claim only a 50% hit rate, and only then in tests that are far removed from a real world attack scenario, said David Wright, a physicist and co-director of global security at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Some tests were delayed for months because the weather was not considered good enough for the interceptor to find its target.

When tests did go ahead, missile operators knew when the target would be launched and its trajectory in the sky. The missile system that was due to be installed in Europe had undergone even less rigorous testing. The plans included a two-stage interceptor which has yet to even begin flight tests.

The radar intended to be installed in the Czech Republic has been used in tests to track targets from its base in the Kwajalein atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Technical studies by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology show that Pentagon estimates of the radar’s ability to detect incoming missiles from Iran were out by a factor of 100. The missiles would have produced too small a radar signature to be spotted in time.

Wright said it was reasonable to assume Iran would be capable of confounding interceptor missiles that rely on heat-seeking infra-red sensors to home in on their targets. “They will definitely be motivated to work on counter-measures and they could defeat the interceptor’s sensors,” he said.

“When people say how well the system works, the truth is it is impossible to know how well it will work because there’s no realistic data,” Wright added.

Twenty leading scientists, including 10 Nobel laureates, wrote to President Obama in July to urge the administration to reconsider the European phase of the missile defence system.

“The planned European missile defence system would have essentially no capability to defend against a real missile attack. Independent and US governmental technical analyses have shown that any country that could field a long-range missile could also add decoys and other counter-measures to that missile that would defeat a defence system like that being proposed for Europe,” the letter stated.

The Obama administration’s revised plan will use the Aegis ship-based weapons system, which could launch SM-3 interceptor missiles from the Mediterranean sea. The system is scheduled to be deployed in 2011.

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Thursday 17 September 2009 20.31 BST
Source: The Guardian

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