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Missile defense concerns

We understand Peter Huessy’s desire to get a missile defense into service as early as possible, but this cannot justify the deployment of as-yet-unproven capabilities. The issues are significantly more complex than the particular subsystems over which we disagree (“Should we wait for Armageddon?” Letters, Sunday).

An effective missile defense has to incorporate several individual elements that need to be integrated into a working system. Our long-term concern regarding the activities of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and its predecessor organizations Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and Strategic Defense Initiative Organization is that disproportionate attention has been given to the development of the individual components and too little to the overarching integration of those entities into a military system.

The Airborne Laser (ABL) provides a clear example of our concern. The aircraft would be a high-value and easily discernible target that would have to have self-protection or require accompanying aircraft to provide protection. In a time of crisis, the capability would have to be on station 24/7, needing several aircraft for each crisis location. These issues should have been evaluated to ascertain whether the concept would be cost-effective prior to initiating a lengthy development program. It is only at this stage, after the expenditure of billions of dollars, that the current director of MDA has acknowledged that the ABL may not be an affordable component of a military system.

Despite the favorable comments by the House Appropriations Committee in recommending restoration of some of the funding initially withdrawn from ABL and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), the Congressional Research Service has noted that several unresolved problems remain and that there still is uncertainty within MDA.

Another example is the need to structure a testing program to evaluate the limits of the capability of the whole system. Because of the enormous expense of flight tests, much of the testing is properly undertaken at component level, in ground and in simulation tests. Once these have provided sufficient confidence, the whole system should be exercised in a comprehensive flight-test program. This aspect has been lacking in the MDA development program.

For a system as complex as missile defense incorporating ground, sea and space-based sensors; ground and sea-based interceptors; and a dispersed battle management, command and control system, a designated test bed appears to be an essential precursor to the acceptance of a system into service and the later incorporation of improvements.

Rather than designating the facility in Alaska as the initial deployment of a missile defense system in 2004 — a facility, incidentally, that has not yet been formally designated as operational — it should have been classified as a test bed that would be available in a time of crisis as defense against hostile missiles.

This is not a question of semantics; it is much more important than that. The provision of a test bed would have enabled MDA to proceed with demanding tests that more closely replicated a possible enemy attack. Successful interceptions would enhance confidence and, much more important, partial or total failures could be accepted because the test bed would be there to identify problems and enable improvements to be incorporated. However, the statement that the first elements of a defense had been deployed undermined this freedom to experience test failures. It induced a climate in which tests had to be structured to succeed or indeed postponed until greater confidence could be obtained by other means.

We have no argument with Mr. Huessy regarding the threats we face or on the need for a missile defense. In the past, we have been directly involved and have fully supported the development of several of the subsystems. However, despite the impressive statistics of successful test firings quoted by MDA and repeated by Mr. Huessy, concern still remains that the silo-based missiles used in test firings have not been fully representative of an in-service system.

STANLEY ORMAN

Rockville

MAJ. GEN. EUGENE FOX

Army (Retired)

McLean, Va.

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