Bush’s Missile Defense vs. My Erector Set

Judging by how the overwhelming majority of Americans simply dismiss President Bush whenever he seizes the podium to spout more nonsense and lies about his illegal, immoral invasion and incompetent occupation of Iraq — arguably the worst foreign policy crime and blunder in US history — virtually every image of our swaggering punk president must now be entering American brains accompanied by the caption: “Warning: This pigheaded, lying screw up doesn’t have a clue!”

Knowing that he now comes adorned with that indelible modern-day scarlet letter, Bush has attempted to obscure it by cloaking it with the credibility of others. First, it was Colin Powell. Today it’s General Petraeus. When Petraeus no longer suits his needs, Bush will jettison him in order to latch upon another earnest dupe. To date, Bush’s serial successes in cloaking and jettisoning appear to defy the common sense wisdom uttered by Aretha Franklin in 1967: “You’re running out of fools and I ain’t lying.”

Consider the case of Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA). Gen. Obering has just published a scattershot and grossly misleading article in Defense News sporting the title, “Missile Defense Hits Mark.”

Having read and written about missile defense (see here and here), my immediate response was to ask, “What mark?” After all, as the US General Accountability Office (GAO) concluded just three months ago: “Because MDA has not formally entered the Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition cycle, it is not yet required to apply certain laws intended to hold major defenses acquisition programs accountable for their planned outcomes and cost, give decision makers a means to conduct oversight, and ensure some level of independent program review.” [GAO-07-799T, April 30, 2007]

Consequently, Gen. Obering could not have been talking about hitting the oversight “marks” normally required of other weapons programs. They’ve been put off. Thus, missile defense has not been held to the rigorous standards routinely applied to other weapons programs, notwithstanding the fact that “the U.S. has been trying to develop a reliable missile defense system for over 45 years.” [Philip E. Coyle, "U.S. Missile Defenses in Europe: The Putin Alternative," The Defense Monitor, July/August 2007]

Instead, when Gen. Obering writes about “hitting the mark,” he’s actually talking about deploying elements of the US “Ground-based Midcourse Defense” (GMD) system “just in time” to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that might be launched by North Korea. Thus, his assertion: “When North Korea launched short- and long-range missiles last summer, we had, for the first time, the means to defend all 50 states against a possible attack.”

But there’s just one slight problem with his assertion. It’s blatantly false!

Consider the recent comments by Philip E. Coyle, the Pentagon’s chief weapons evaluator during the Clinton administration. Speaking about the foolishness of the proposed missile defense system for Eastern Europe, Coyle observed: “[T]he United States is deploying missile defense hardware in Alaska and California, and is proposing the same for Eastern Europe, that has not demonstrated the capability to defend Europe, let alone the United States, from an attack by Iran (or North Korea for that matter) under realistic operational conditions. For this reason, the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has ‘dumbed down’ the supposed threat from Iran (and North Korea) to just one or two missiles with no decoys or countermeasures. And yet still the MDA has not been able to demonstrate the effective capability to stop even that idealized threat under realistic operational conditions.” [Philip E. Coyle, "U.S. Missile Defenses in Europe: The Putin Alternative," The Defense Monitor, July/August 2007]

Simply put, notwithstanding the roughly $50 billion already lining the pockets of defense contractors during the Bush years and the $49 billion that MDA expects to spend over the next five years, the United States still possesses no demonstrated capability to intercept even one ICBM launched from North Korea or anywhere else.

Thus, rather than “Missile Defense Hits Mark,” a more appropriate title might have been, “The American Taxpayer: An Easy Mark for Missile Defense.”

That new title got me to thinking: Perhaps I could locate the “Erector Set” I played with as a kid. You know, the small metal beams full of holes, capable of being fastened into various shapes by screws, nuts and bolts and put into motion by pulleys, motors and gears. Perhaps, I could craft a Ground-based Midcourse Defense system from that Erector Set, link its projectile-firing pulleys, motors and gears to my computer and a GPS system — and sell it to the Pentagon for a mere $5 billion (to cover material, labor and engineering costs).

Granted, I haven’t fully worked out all the conceptual problems associated with my envisioned GMD interceptor (projectile), but, as the above-mentioned GAO report notes about my competitors: “The reliability of some GMD interceptors remains uncertain . . . because inadequate mission assurance/quality control procedures may have allowed less reliable or inappropriate parts to be incorporated in the manufacturing process.”

Moreover, I’m quite willing to concede to the Pentagon that my GMD system would be slightly less effective than the system it currently deploys. But unlike its unworkable GMD system, my unworkable Erector Set GMD system can be had for pennies on the dollar! (If I charged less than $5 billion, the Pentagon wouldn’t take me seriously.)

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: waltuhler@aol.com. Read other articles by Walter C., or visit Walter C.'s website.