In a new report by NBC, physicists from the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization of some 200,000 plus professional scientists and concerned citizens, said the missile defense system credited with being able to shoot down anything that comes near US airspace doesn’t actually work all that well.
Reports indicate that although the program is a $40 billion project, complete with 36 interceptors, it has performed rather dismally in basic field tests; failing about 50 percent of the time. In fact, records show that in the last nine attack simulations alone, the missile system has failed six times; giving it just a 33 percent success rate.
Introduced in 2002, records show the system was allowed to sidestep the usual test phases in an effort to get it online as quickly as possible. Now, 15 years later, it seems those tests may have come in handy. When asked about the reliability of such weaponry, one congressional aide was quite pessimistic.
“None of this stuff works reliably,” he said. “Nothing.”
As threats from North Korea continue to escalate, several US officials have gone on record stating that the defense system is ready to defend the homeland from any attack Kim Jong-un might throw its way. In fact, Air Force General Lori Robinson even called the system “exactly what we need to defend the United States of America from North Korea.” Chris Johnson of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense agency added that the Pentagon “is confident” in its ability to protect the homeland “against ballistic missile threats.”
But scientists, skeptics, and even other government officials said the Pentagon might be blowing hot air. NBC News reports that in a recent statement, the Government Accountability Office noted that the current missile defense system “has not demonstrated through flight testing that it can defend the US homeland.” Physicist David Wright also indicated that the defense system has failed over half the times it’s been tested, and all the tests were scripted. He suggests that if operators of the system can’t even get it right when they know exactly where the missile is coming from, they could have a much more difficult time defending the US from an actual, unpredictable attack.
Supporters of the missile defense system’s capabilities say the tests that have been run are indeed realistic, and in the event of an actual missile strike against the US, several interceptors would be deployed at the same time, drastically increasing the chance of success. They do, however, acknowledge that the system is not where they would like it to be.
In order to test whether the launch of several interceptors would actually be an effective solution to the problem, the Union of Concerned Scientists claimed it ran several calculations on the premise that five interceptors would be launched for every one ballistic missile. The results, though better, were still disturbing. The calculations showed that a missile would still have a 28 percent possibility of hitting its intended target, and sources indicate a 72 percent success chance isn’t exactly a comforting thought. The Union also indicated that the tests did not consider the use of decoys or countermeasures; two tactics that often go hand-in-hand with missile launches. One such countermeasure could include a way to get past the system’s heat sensors by using liquid nitrogen. Scientists claim that if a missile were to be coated with the substance before launch, it’s likely that it could reach its target before operators were even aware it was in the sky.
It’s issues like these that have many calling for a complete overhaul of the US defense system. There are, however, still plenty of supporters who indicate the failed tests and potential problems are all part of a learning process that will fix itself over time.
[Featured Image by Amir Kholousi/AP Images]