APS News

December 2003 (Volume 12, Number 11)

GAO Says Current Missile Defense Plan Is Risky

A recent report from the General Accounting Office asserts that the Administration's current missile defense plans are risky given the state of the critical technologies. The report recommends that the Department of Defense explore options to properly demonstrate effectiveness of one of these technologies and establish procedures to help ensure data from the Missile Defense Agency's monitoring system are reliable.

The GAO report, requested by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), senior Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that oversees international security, investigates the maturity of technologies critical to the performance of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element. Of the 10 critical technologies to ensure an effective midcourse defense system, only two have been demonstrated technologically "mature," that is, tested successfully in a realistic operational environment. Without demonstration of the effectiveness of all of the technologies, says the report, "the agency has accepted higher cost and schedule risks by beginning integration of the element's components before these technologies have matured."

GAO was especially concerned that the Cobra Dane radar system will not be tested in an integrated flight test. The Cobra Dane radar system is designed to differentiate between active warheads and decoys or other countermeasures.

Although DOD officials told GAO that they might be able to test the radar in other ways, GAO does not believe that, in the absence of a test where all the components of the system are involved, the more isolated tests will provide the assurance that the radar system would work in a real situation.

The GAO report is the second report this year to come out with reservations about the effectiveness of missile defense as it is envisioned by the Administration. Earlier this year, the American Physical Society released a report of the Study Group on Boost-Phase Intercept Systems for National Missile Defense. The APS report determined that intercepting missiles while their rockets are still burning would not be an effective approach for defending the US against attacks by an important type of enemy missile.

The full GAO report can be found at http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/track/gao-03-600.pdf under Report Number GAO-03-600.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette

December 2003 (Volume 12, Number 11)

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Articles in this Issue
APS March Meeting Heads North to Montréal
APS Honors Two Undergrads with Apker Award
California Physics Departments Face More Budget Cuts in an Uncertain Future
AMS, Biomedical Applications Highlight 2003 DNP Meeting
Fusion Tops DOE Facilities List
Entire APS Journal Collection Licensed by Los Alamos "Library Without Walls"
GAO Says Current Missile Defense Plan Is Risky
Homeland Security Programs Need Best Scientific Talent, Says DHS Undersecretary
Meeting Briefs
APS Members Capture Array of Honors
APS-Led Teacher Preparation Program Adds Another Participating School
Chicago Area Fellows Convene
Program Committee Prepares for March Meeting
The Back Page
This Month in Physics History
Inside the Beltway: A Washington Analysis
Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science