Immediately following the Fourth of July fireworks, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) tried out some fireworks of its own. By trying to hit a missile with a missile they attempted a demonstration of the defensive “shield,” designed to protect the U.S. from North Korean and Iranian nuclear missiles. It turned out to be a dud. As with the two previous attempts, the Ground Based Missile Defense system once again failed. This failure happened despite the fact that the demonstration was essentially rigged: the intercept team knew ahead of time when to expect the incoming missile and all its relevant flight parameters. Such luxury is obviously not available in real-life combat. But even if the $214 million “test” had worked it would not prove much.
Now some GOP hawks — led by “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee — are calling for more fake “testing” of the system. Their request should be denied as it would only throw more good money after bad.
These are not real tests at all, but better described as controlled “experiments” or scripted “demonstrations.” It’s like “testing” how good a hunter one is by shooting a deer tied to a tree — at ten paces. Successfully shooting the deer wouldn’t prove a thing about one’s hunting skills. Failing such a “test,” however, would underline just how unprepared one is.
For instance, the team assigned to intercept the incoming missile knows the timing, trajectory, speed and radar signature of the missile. And, typically, contractors from the companies who built the missiles and interceptors are holding the hands of the military staff during these scripted demonstrations. In the real world, one would have no idea which day an attack might occur — nor the precise trajectory, speed or radar signature that the missile might take.
Moreover, our adversaries will surely also use countermeasures during the attack, rendering the system ineffective. The enemy may also choose to launch a simultaneous salvo attack with several live warheads distributed among many decoys. The time of attack could also be planned such that the sun is located in an unfavorable location in the sky, possibly blinding or confusing the defensive sensors. For the sea-based “Aegis” missile defense system, another complication is if the enemy chooses to attack during rough weather when interceptors cannot safely be launched from the ships. None of these complicating factors are incorporated in the MDA’s demonstrations.