WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Is Ballistic Missile Defense making unprecedented strides, or is it fizzling disastrously? The news is daily filled with items that point either way.
However, a new report from the New York-based World Peace Institute pulls no punches in arguing that the cup is empty, not full.
"Over $130 billion has been spent on missile defense since President Reagan gave his 1983 'Star Wars' speech. (Yet) despite all this money and effort, the Pentagon has yet to produce a single device capable of reliably intercepting a long-range ballistic missile," the report says.
The Missile Defense Agency, enthusiastically backed by President George W. Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative top civilian echelon in the Pentagon, has been driving ahead to deploy a chain of ground-based ABM interceptors around Fort Greely, Alaska, as fast as it could. But the report was devastating in its assessment of that program's lack of credibility.
"The ground-based midcourse system (GMD), which has received the bulk of missile defense funding in recent years, has failed in its last three tests, including two in which the interceptor missile was unable to leave its silo," the report said. "Independent experts have demonstrated that the current system is incapable of picking out an incoming warhead from an array of simple decoys, rendering it unreliable and ultimately unworkable."
Other missile defense technologies, such as "boost phase" defenses whose aim would be to hit an enemy missile shortly after it leaves its silo, many experts say, may ultimately prove to be far more effective. But even these, the WPI report cautions, "are also plagued with daunting technical challenges that may not be solvable, according to a report from the American Physical Society."
The report accuses the Bush administration of pouring multiple billions of dollars into poorly assessed, inadequately supervised and tested programs, where sloppy direction and oversight magnifies the likelihood of failure.
"Annual missile defense budgets increased by more than 80 percent in the first two years of the Bush administration, from $4.2 billion per year to $7.7 billion per year," it said. "Budgets have continued to increase, to $8.8 billion in the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2006, down from $9.9 billion in FY 2005. The current missile defense budget is more than double what it was in the final year of the Clinton administration."
Yet, the report continues, "as budgets have increased, scrutiny of the missile program has diminished. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a long-time ally of the missile defense lobby, has eliminated basic reports on the costs and performance of missile defense technology, while classifying key details that Congress and the public need to assess the feasibility of the program."
"Information on the number and character of decoys used in a given test is no longer provided, making it impossible to determine whether tests are being conducted under anything even remotely resembling real world conditions," the report says.
If the American people have not received any effective protection from nuclear ballistic missile attack so far from the BMD program, nor any likelihood of doing so in the foreseeable future, the main defense contracting corporations have done very well out of it indeed, the report says.
"The acceleration of missile defense spending has been especially lucrative for top missile defense contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman," it says.
"Boeing's missile defense contracts more than doubled from 2001 to 2004, from $1.4 billion to $2.9 billion. Lockheed Martin's awards also increased more than 100 percent, from $557 million in 2001 to $1.2 billion in 2004. Raytheon's contracts nearly tripled, from $225 million to $647 million; and Northrop Grumman's awards went up more than fivefold, from $104 million to $534 million. More than 77 percent of all missile defense prime contract awards from 2001 to 2004 went to just these four firms."
The report acknowledges that space-based weapons are now a practical and physical reality. "The concept of placing weapons in space -- to destroy other country's satellites, bolster missile defense efforts, or attack targets on earth -- has gone well beyond the "what if" stage into research and development of actual systems," it says. "Although many of these programs are shrouded in secrecy, a rough estimate is that new space weapons initiatives receive approximately $300 million to $500 million per year, a small fraction of the roughly $22 billion the U.S. spends annually on military space activities. Many of the same corporate players that are involved in missile defense are also in on the ground floor of space weapons projects."
The report concludes that "the best hope of developing a practical military space policy that is not distorted by special interests is to reduce secrecy and increase transparency in these programs, so that a full public debate can occur before the fateful step of placing weapons in space is decided upon."