After a decade and $40 billion, U.S. missile defense system can't be relied on, even in carefully scripted tests.
But U.S. lawmakers and the Obama administration 'have protected flawed missile defense system's funding and want to spend billions more to expand it'. 'Despite years of tinkering and vows to fix technical shortcomings, the system's performance has gotten worse, not better, since testing began in 1999. Of the eight tests held since GMD became operational in 2004, five have been failures. The last successful intercept was on Dec. 5, 2008.'
'The GMD system was rushed into the field after President George W. Bush, in 2002, ordered a crash effort to deploy "an initial set of missile defense capabilities." The hurried deployment has compromised its effectiveness in myriad ways.' 'The Obama administration, after signaling that it would keep the number of interceptors at the current 30, now supports expanding the system. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called for deploying 14 new interceptors at Ft. Greely by late 2017.'
'"Fly, then buy" is a maxim in the defense and aerospace fields, meaning that customers should wait until a complicated new system has been rigorously tested before purchasing.
With GMD, the government's approach was the opposite: "Buy, then fly."
Then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld exempted the Missile Defense Agency from standard procurement rules and testing standards, freeing it to use research and development money to buy and deploy a system quickly.
The rocket interceptors were essentially prototypes rather than finished products when put in the field. The first model of kill vehicle was not flight-tested against a mock warhead until September 2006 — two years after the vehicles had been placed in the silos.
Because each of the kill vehicles is handmade, no two are identical. A fix that works with one interceptor might not solve problems with others. The piecemeal approach has left the system short of spare parts for critical components.
Pressure to produce and deploy the interceptors at a breakneck pace made it difficult to revise engineering drawings to correct shortcomings exposed in flight tests or keep up with technological advances.
One senior official involved in the system described his frustration at learning that some computers aboard the kill vehicles lacked the processing power of common cellphones.
About a third of the kill vehicles now in use — the exact number is classified — are the same model that failed in the 2010 tests, according to people familiar with the system who spoke on condition of anonymity. That model has yet to intercept a target.
Because interceptors used in test flights burn up when they reenter the atmosphere or are lost in the ocean, scientists have been hard-pressed to pinpoint the causes of the failures.'