Missile defense is a boondoggle

This is why we need the Office of Technology Assessment (and listen to it), Bush is trying to bring back SDI, big time.

President Bush said yesterday that a missile defense system is urgently needed in Europe to guard against a possible attack on U.S. allies by Iran, while Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested that the United States could delay activating such a system until there is “definitive proof” of such a threat.

The seemingly contrasting messages came as the Bush administration grappled with continuing Russian protests over Washington’s plan to deploy elements of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The Kremlin considers the program a potential threat to its own nuclear deterrent and has sought to play down any threat from Iran.

Both Bush and Gates affirmed that they want to proceed with deployment of the system, including 10 antimissile interceptors in Poland and a radar-tracking facility in the Czech Republic projected for completion in 2012. Bush cited Iran’s development of ballistic missiles that could strike Israel and Turkey, and said Tehran is also developing missiles that could strike NATO countries.

This cold-war boondoggle was shown to be worthless and fundamentally flawed as a political concept and as a feasible technology over 20 years ago (PDF) by the OTA, and I think their basic findings remain unchallenged. These systems have failed every test so far except for what, one? The last test I remember cost 87 million dollars and the missile didn’t even leave the silo! In general missile defense, even Patriot Missile defense against the relatively unsophisticated Scud missile, has been shown to only be an effective psychological weapon and physically ineffective in actually destroying missiles. In fact, even in the first Iraq War the Patriot countermeasures against Scud missiles, when retrospectively analyzed showed success in only a tiny minority of intercepts (possibly zero) – not to mention all the friendly-fire incidents and planes they shot down (not surprising since the system was designed to attack planes).

Missile defense is flawed as a concept too, as it could be overwhelmed easily by simultaneous launch of dummy missiles, other decoys deployed in flight, and other countermeasures to prevent the rather rare event of two bullets successfully colliding in midair. It is politically treacherous, as it angers the Russians, and merely escalates arms races. If the enemy knows and is prepared for their deployment, clearly other methods such as bombers, smuggling of bombs into enemy territory, or short range technology would be used to attack easier targets.

Finally, I am unimpressed that a nuclear Iran actually represents such an extreme threat to America or our allies. Even with ICBM technology Iran would never have the capability to challenge real nuclear powers such as Israel, or the US without certain annihilation. MAD worked as a strategy against a far more powerful and threatening enemy for 50 years, and while not ideal, was effective. Missile defense has only shown itself to be tremendously expensive, politically unfeasible, and, after 25 years of R&D completely unproven as a defensive technology. It’s all in the OTA report, maybe after all this time and money we should consider listening to what the science says about this endeavor, and abandon it. If we’d done that in the first place the savings would have been in the hundreds of billions.