“With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
Here’s a puzzle with no answer. Why has George Bush budgeted $3.73 billion to deploy a missile defense system the component parts of which have either not been tested or having been tested, have failed, while simultaneously declining to proceed with installing missile defense systems for commercial airliners the cost of which is approximately $3 million a plane.
In February 2003 it was reported that the Pentagon intended to begin deploying a missile defense system in 2004 without fully testing it. In support of the idea, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee said: ” I happen to think that thinking we cannot deploy something until you have everything perfect, every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed, is probably not a good idea In the case of missile defense, I think we need to get something out there, in the ground, at sea, and in a way that we can test it, we can look at it, we can develop it, we can evolve it, and find out-learn from the experimentation with it.”
Mr. Rumsfeld had forgotten about a 1983 law mandating that before some weapons system is deployed, it must be successfully tested. In the 2004 budget request the president justified deployment without testing by saying that deployment would be considered part of the development and demonstration of the system rather than its actual use. In the budget request the White House further suggested that no testing of the system be required until after the 2004 election although that wasn’t quite how it was stated. What it said was that testing of the system should resume in 2006.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan objected to this approach saying: “It would be a lot better if we have confidence that the system will work before it is deployed, because otherwise it just creates a lot more uncertainty.” He explained that the purpose of the 1983 law was “to prevent the production and fielding of a weapon system that doesn’t work right.”
In September 2003 the General Accounting Office issued a 40-page report saying the uncertainty surrounding the development of the system produced a “greater likelihood that critical technologies will not work as intended in planned flight tests.” Phillip E. Coyle, III, a former head of weapons testing at the Pentagon said the GAO report demonstrated that if the system was activated in 2004 it would be “no more than a scarecrow, not a real defense.”
Although George Bush doesn’t mind deploying an untested anti missile system, he doesn’t think any missile defense on civilian aircraft should be installed until he is completely sure that the systems have been fully tested irrespective of what the producers of those systems say.
BAE Systems, one of three groups of contractors selected by the Department of Homeland Security to develop the technology is confident the technology to deflect small missiles such as those Al Qaeda has, could be ready for installation in 3-4 months and even sooner if needed. Jack Pledger a Northrop Grumman executive in charge of anti missile systems for that company said the laser-jamming devices could installed on passenger jets “right now. If it became necessary to provide this system immediately, we’re ready.”
Operating with the sort of caution eschewed by Mr. Rumsfeld , the Homeland Security Department put aside $100 million for a study to determine whether anti missile devices could successfully be installed on passenger planes. Prototypes should be built within the next 18 months. Responding to criticism that it is moving too slowly it explained that it would be irresponsible to put in place a system the reliability, safety and cost effectiveness of which had not been proven. John J. Kubricky directs anti missile research programs at the Department of Homeland Security and said cautiously: “What we’re trying to avoid is taking shortcuts. I can’t think of any way to speed this up and to do it safely and economically.”
The missile defense system for the country is to protect us from North Korean missiles. That should be easy since, as Ben Arnoldy of the Christian Science Monitor has reported, North Korea’s No Dong missiles, their most far reaching, have a range of about 600 miles. The aircraft system is designed to protect airplane passengers from shoulder-fired missiles costing about $5,000 each on the black market, weighing 35 pounds, of which more than 5000 that have the capacity to presently inflict great harm are held by terrorist groups around the world. As soon as Mr. Bush finishes spending billions protecting us from missiles that don’t pose a present threat, he may want to consider protecting us from those that do.