WASHINGTON, June 29 (UPI) -- In our previous BMD Focus, we noted the uncertainties surrounding the reliability of the U.S. ground-based midcourse interceptors deployed in Alaska.
Over the past week, UPI and the Los Angeles Times have both reported on the alarming findings of a U.S. Government Accountability Office study released in March. Even these reports do not quote extensively from the GAO study: Its language is remarkably clear and uncompromising and deserves far wider circulation.
"The report acknowledges that the U.S. Department of Defense "has made progress in planning to operate BMDS (the ballistic missile defense system)." But it immediately continues, "However, it (the DOD) has not established operational criteria or fully completed training, security and personnel plans."
Further, "DOD has not established formal criteria for what needs to be accomplished before declaring that limited defensive operations or subsequent bocks of capability are optional."
The report confirms assessments we have repeatedly made in these columns over the past year that major problems about the reliability of the ground-based interceptor system were caused by the insistence of top U.S. officials in the first Bush administration that the interceptors be rushed into deployment without the most elementary and routine testing briefing done, as is routinely the case to ensure the reliability of their individual components.
The program's "development has been unique in several aspects, including the pace of the system's development and the secretary of defense's decision to exempt it from some DOD requirements guidance," the GAO report said.
The report frankly warns that without these criteria being applied, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the driving force behind the breakneck -- and, according to its critics, reckless -- system deployment "may not have a transparent basis for declaring BMDS operational."
"Without adequate planning, clear criteria and identification of responsibility for ensuring necessary actions, it may be difficult for DID to identify and prioritize (in order to) ensure itself or Congress that the necessary pieces are in place before declaring the system operational," the report presciently warned.
Only the U.S. Army's Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, system of all elements of U.S. BMD had full operational criteria developed by February 2006, when research for the GAO report was completed, the report stated. Operational criteria were in development for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system and for Updated Early Warning Research, the report said. But five key elements of the BMD program remained without any operational criteria at all.
These were, the report said: the Aegis Ballistic Missile System; Command, Control, Battle Management and Communications; the Forward-Based X-Band Radar Transportable; the Ground-based Midcourse Defense anti-ballistic missile interceptor system; and the Sea-Based X-Band Radar.
The report also noted that the Department of Defense dictionary defined operational capability as "the first attainment of the capability to employ effectively a weapon, item of equipment, or system of approved specific characteristics, and which is manned and operated by an adequately trained and, equipped, and supported military force or unit."
The sea-based Aegis ABM system deploying Standard Missile-3s has the most successful and extensive record of testing of any part of the U.S. BMD program. But even Aegis has not been subjected to operational criteria, the report said.
The U.S. Navy "has not developed operation al criteria for the Aegis ballistic missile defense element," it said. "Navy officials state that that they would only develop operational criteria and establish a timeline for achieving an initial capability for more ships than the Missile Defense Agency currently plans to buy."
As of March 2006, Rumsfeld and his top officials still did not have laying-out steps that need to be taken and criteria that should be met before declaring that either the limited defensive operations or subsequent system blocks are operational,
The Department of Defense "does not even have any comprehensive plan laying out steps that need to be taken and criteria that should be met before declaring that either the limited defensive operations or subsequent system blocks are operational," the report said.
Further, "no organization is clearly in charge of developing such criteria and ensuring they are met," it said.
The report documents a state of what appears to be administrative chaos at the top civilian echelon levels of the Pentagon in developing and deploying the BMD defenses, whose failure in a war situation could cost millions of lives.
All the dedicated work of thousands of scientists, engineers and technological workers in the prime U.S. defense contractors and of thousands of dedicated officers and enlisted troops in the U.S. armed forces and the Missile Defense Agency could go for nothing if the most elementary testing procedures for complex systems and the Pentagon's own demanding standards that were painstakingly developed over decades continue to ignored in the ways that the GAO report documented.