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ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General
Missile Defense

Missile Defense Cost Rises Amid Concerns

Two high-ranking military officials said the current U.S. strategy to defeat adversary ballistic missiles is “unsustainable.”

April 2015

By Kingston Reif

Admiral Bill Gortney, head of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, testifies at a March 19 hearing of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee in this video image. (House Armed Services)The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposes a major increase for ballistic missile defense programs amid concerns from two high-ranking military officials that the country’s current strategy to defeat adversary ballistic missiles is “unsustainable.”

The administration is asking for $9.6 billion for missile defense efforts in fiscal year 2016, an increase of $1.1 billion, or 13 percent, above what the administration requested for fiscal year 2015. In the request for fiscal year 2016, $8.1 billion would be for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

Congress appropriated $7.9 billion for the MDA, which is part of the Defense Department, for fiscal year 2015.
The proposal to increase missile defense spending comes as the Navy and Army have raised alarms about the direction of U.S. missile defense policy. In a November 5, 2014, memorandum to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, and Gen. Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff, wrote that the “present acquisition-based strategy is unsustainable in the current fiscal environment.”

Current ballistic missile threats, they said, “continue to outpace our active defense systems and exceed our Services’ capability to meet Combatant Commanders’ demand.”

The memo calls for the development of a more “holistic approach” to missile defense “that is more sustainable and cost-effective” and places greater emphasis on deterring and preventing missiles from leaving the ground and other means of defense, such as cyber- and electronic warfare weapons.

The memo, titled “Adjusting the Ballistic Missile Defense Strategy,” was first posted on the website of Inside Defense on March 6.

In a Feb. 5 letter, obtained by Arms Control Today, Hagel responded to Greenert and Odierno’s memo by saying U.S. missile defense strategy is “sound” but that the Pentagon would undertake a review to “inform force requirements and related issues” for the fiscal year 2017 budget request.

The United States is currently developing, testing, and deploying a ballistic missile defense system designed to counter ballistic missiles of all ranges in an integrated and layered configuration that provides multiple opportunities to destroy missiles and their warheads after they are launched but before they can reach their targets. The Defense Department spent approximately $105 billion on the system between fiscal years 2002 and 2014, according to a Government Accountability Office report in December 2014.

The MDA is proposing to spend an additional $38 billion between fiscal years 2016 and 2020.

At a March 19 hearing of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, characterized the Greenert-Odierno memo as “pretty astonishing” and “kind of a vote of no confidence” in U.S. missile defense strategy “from two of the most important people in the military.”

Adm. Bill Gortney, the head of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, told Cooper at the hearing that the primary concern expressed by Greenert and Odierno is that the current defense approach is “emphasizing being a [missile] catcher and shooting a rocket down with a rocket, which is a very expensive proposition.”

“We’re on the wrong side of the cost curve, and we’re on the wrong side of the operational tempo curve” because the Pentagon is not able to meet the demand for missile defense capabilities around the world, Gortney said.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the subcommittee chairman, said at the hearing that he was “deeply troubled” by the Greenert-Odierno memo but that he agreed with Hagel that the current missile defense policy is sound. “Missile defense is a core mission; it is not a ‘nice to have,’ it is a ‘must do,’” he said.

Rogers suggested that the caps on military spending imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act are the biggest threat to the missile defense mission. “We must get…budget relief so that this core mission” is “executable,” said Rogers.

It is not clear whether the problems with the current strategy identified by the Navy and Army will lead to major changes to missile defense policy.

At a March 17 conference in Washington, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work announced the creation of an Electronic Warfare Programs Council to direct all Pentagon electronic warfare programs. According to Work, a stronger emphasis on electronic warfare is needed in part to provide additional options to defeat the increasingly sophisticated missile capabilities of U.S. adversaries.

In a March 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Philip Coyle, former director of weapons testing for the Defense Department, said that “the basic architecture of U.S. missile defense systems is in doubt because of elements that are not effective, do not exist, or are not achievable for the foreseeable future.” He added that “a major review and reconsideration of America’s missile defense systems is warranted.”

Hill Withholds Funds for Work in Russia

Congress voted in December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia...

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) talks with reporters as he walks to the Senate floor for the start of a series of votes on December 12, 2014, the day that the Senate voted to approve the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2015. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)Congress voted in December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia amid uncertainty about the future of collaborative efforts between Washington and Moscow in that area.

Lawmakers also voted to significantly curtail Defense Department Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs in Russia.

Despite the decision not to fund the budget request for the Energy Department programs, unspent money within the department’s nonproliferation account will allow activities in Russia to continue if Moscow agrees to such cooperation, a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer said in a Dec. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

These provisions were part of the fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations and defense authorization bills, both of which Congress passed in December at the end of the 113th Congress. Fiscal year 2015 started on Oct. 1, 2014, and runs until Sept. 30.

Of the money Congress withheld for Energy Department work in Russia, $25.4 million was taken from the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), and $66.9 million was subtracted from the International Material Protection and Cooperation (IMPC) program.

In his e-mail, the Senate staffer said that there is enough unspent money left over from previous years’ appropriations and the spending bill that funded the government from Oct. 1 through mid-December to “complete activities” in fiscal year 2015 “and start new activities” if Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz approves them. According to budget figures shown to Arms Control Today, roughly $100 million remains available to continue work in Russia by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in fiscal year 2015.

Congress also put constraints on the Defense Department’s nuclear security work in Russia. The defense bill prohibits funding for CTR programs in Russia beyond fiscal year 2015 without specific authorization from Congress. “[T]he traditional manner in which the program’s activities have been carried out in the Russian Federation is no longer necessary and no longer sustainable,” said the explanatory report accompanying the bill. “[S]ecuring and destroying nuclear weapons and nuclear material is now a Russian responsibility and one that the United States should no longer fund without Russian cooperation,” the report added.

The decline in congressional support for nuclear security work in Russia comes as Moscow has taken steps to wind down cooperation with the United States, putting the future of such cooperation in doubt. (See ACT, December 2014.)

The omnibus bill provided funding above the budget request for other nuclear security efforts, including an extra $32 million to complete installation of fixed detection equipment to prevent nuclear smuggling at vulnerable border crossings, airports, and small seaports in key countries around Russia and in high-threat areas in the Middle East. The bill also added funds to accelerate efforts to develop a new generation of warhead monitoring technologies and improve capabilities to detect low-yield nuclear tests.

Despite these increases, the final spending level for Energy Department nonproliferation work fell far short of what the Senate appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which funds the department’s nuclear security programs, approved in July. The full appropriations committee and the full Senate never voted on that bill. Although the subcommittee provided about $825 million, well above the budget request of $638 million for the GTRI and IMPC programs, the omnibus bill reduced their funding to $597 million.

Instead, the final funding levels for the GTRI and IMPC programs mirror those approved by the House, which withheld funding for work in Russia and funded other activities at roughly the same level as the budget request.

In the Dec. 19 e-mail, the Senate staffer said that increasing the funding for nonproliferation activities in the omnibus bill “was an uphill battle” for a number of reasons, including the Obama administration’s “inadequate” fiscal year 2015 budget request for nonproliferation “and uncertainty about the future of some of these nonproliferation programs.” In August, 26 senators sent a letter to the White House criticizing the administration’s proposed cuts to nonproliferation programs over the last several years. (See ACT, September 2014.)

Signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 16, the omnibus appropriations bill is a $1.1 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills that had to be passed to keep the government operating. The bill provides funding for agencies covered by 11 of the appropriations bills for the remainder of the fiscal year and continues spending at last year’s funding levels for the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 27.

The $577 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which Obama signed Dec. 19, establishes spending ceilings and sets policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities.

Overall, the omnibus bill includes approximately $8.2 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the NNSA, an increase of roughly $406 million from last year’s funding level.

New Cruise Missile Funded

The omnibus bill includes a compromise between the Senate and House to provide $9.4 million, the amount the NNSA had requested, to study a refurbishment of the warhead for the nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). The funding figure essentially split the difference between the House, which initially approved $17 million for the study, and the Senate, which provided no funding for the concept study. (See ACT, November 2014.)

According to the Senate staffer, the bill makes no commitment to ultimately fund a life extension program for the ALCM warhead. The bill mandates that before the NNSA moves beyond the concept study phase, the NNSA must provide Congress with a report on the military requirements and preliminary cost and schedule estimates for a refurbishment effort.

The omnibus bill also requires the defense secretary to submit a report to Congress “describing the requirements, anticipated missions, programmed funding by fiscal year, and current program schedule” for the new missile that will carry the refurbished warhead. The Air Force’s fiscal year 2015 budget request delayed the new missile program by three years. According to an aide for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the outgoing chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, the “general intent” of the report “is to have [the Defense Department] better explain” the acquisition strategy for the new missile program.

Meanwhile, the defense authorization bill dilutes provisions in the original House bill regarding the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), Russia’s alleged noncompliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, and the maintenance of U.S. Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos. The House bill barred the spending of any money to carry out the reductions required by New START until Russia met a number of conditions, including “respecting the sovereignty of all Ukrainian territory.” The final bill merely requires a report from the Defense Department stating the reasons that continued implementation of New START is in the national security interests of the United States.

Similarly, the House bill required the Defense Department to prepare a plan for developing new U.S. intermediate-range missiles in response to Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation, but the final bill asks for a report on steps being taken or planned by the department to respond to the violation (see story below). Moreover, while the House bill demanded the maintenance of 450 operational Minuteman III ICBM silos without an end date for that requirement, the final bill requires the maintenance of the silos only until 2021.

Missile Defense Scrutinized

Personnel at the Missile Defense Integration and Operation Center on Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado work at the test control facility during the flight test of a ground-based interceptor on June 22, 2014. (Missile Defense Agency)The defense bill includes provisions to strengthen congressional oversight of U.S. missile defense programs. One section requires that prior to production or deployment of “a new or substantially upgraded interceptor or weapon system of the ballistic missile defense system,” the defense secretary must ensure “sufficient and operationally realistic testing” of the system and that the testing results demonstrate “a high probability” that the system “will work in an operationally effective manner.” The provision also requires the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation to provide an assessment of the “sufficiency, adequacy, and results of the testing.”

Another section requires the defense secretary to commission an independent study on the testing program of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The study must include “an assessment of whether the currently planned testing program” for the missile system “is sufficient to establish reasonable confidence that the…system has a high probability of performing reliably and effectively.”

Plagued by rushed development, cost overruns, and test failures, the GMD system is designed to protect the United States from limited missile attacks by Iran and North Korea. A total of 30 interceptors are currently deployed in Alaska and California. The Pentagon is planning to deploy an additional 14 interceptors in Alaska by the end of 2017.

Overall, the omnibus bill provided $1.1 billion for the GMD system, including $43 million more than the administration requested to upgrade the Capability Enhancement II kill vehicle. The bill also funded the administration’s $99.5 million request to begin work on a redesigned kill vehicle for the system. (See ACT, July/August 2014.)

Removing the Missile Defense Obstacle to Deeper Nuclear Cuts

It has been obvious for decades that advances in strategic ballistic missile defenses can complicate efforts to maintain a balance in strategic offensive forces while reducing overall nuclear arsenals. The two Cold War superpowers addressed this problem by negotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972, which limited the breadth and scope of ballistic missile defense (BMD) deployments. But U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002 and enthusiastic pursuit of BMD by the United States has again brought the negative impact of missile defense on nuclear arms control efforts to the...

Missile Defense Test Scrapped

The Defense Department said it no longer plans to conduct a flight-intercept test of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system scheduled for next summer.

December 2014

By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department said it no longer plans to conduct a flight-intercept test of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system scheduled for next summer.

Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the department’s Missile Defense Agency, told InsideDefense.com in October that the test has been replaced with “a developmental non-intercept test” designed to assess interceptor “thruster performance” and “improved discrimination performance.” In a Dec. 2 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Lehner said this test would “provid[e] data that will improve and enhance system reliability.”

The GMD system is designed to protect the United States from limited missile attacks by Iran and North Korea. A total of 30 interceptors are currently deployed in Alaska and California. The Pentagon is planning to deploy an additional 14 interceptors in Alaska by the end of 2017.

Plagued by cost overruns and test failures, the system successfully intercepted a target in a June 22 test. This was the first successful intercept test since 2008 and the first using the Capability Enhancement II (CE-II) kill vehicle. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) The kill vehicle sits atop the booster rocket and is intended to collide with a target in outer space.

The test that was canceled was scheduled to be another intercept test of the CE-II. Laura Grego, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in a Nov. 3 blog post that the decision to scrap that exercise could mean that the June 22 test “was not as successful as assumed.” Grego noted that the next intercept test of the GMD system now is not scheduled until the summer of 2016, leaving a two-year gap between intercept attempts.

In a Nov. 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Philip Coyle, former director of weapons testing for the Defense Department, said that, with the test cancellation, “the GMD program will be in limbo for years longer, lacking regular, contemporary flight intercept test results to guide development.”

Sixty-Nine Years After Hiroshima, Time for Renewed Action for Nuclear Disarmament and Human Survival

A-Bomb Dome is seen near Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on August 5, 2010 in Hiroshima, Japan,. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images) By Daryl G. Kimball Since the devastating U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 69 years ago this week , the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons have motivated ordinary citizens to push their leaders to pursue arms control and disarmament measures to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons use. For decades, it has been well understood that the direct effects of a large-scale nuclear conflict could result in several hundred million human fatalities, while...

Rushing to Failure, Again

Hit or Miss, Sunday's Missile Defense Test Will Not Justify Expansion If the interceptor in Sunday's test hits, its test record would be one-for-three. Good for baseball, bad for stopping nukes. The United States has better alternatives. By Tom Z. Collina In 2004, President George W. Bush began fielding the Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) system that is in place today, composed of 30 interceptor missiles in Alaska and California, intended to counter a possible long-range missile attack from North Korea or Iran. Ten years later, it is all-too clear that the prototype system was rushed into...

Fix Missile Defense, Don't Expand It

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The next test of the U.S. Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) system will occur "very soon," Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said May 28. And if that test is a success, he said, the Pentagon plans to add 14 interceptors to the 30 deployed in Alaska and California by 2017, increasing the total by almost 50 percent. This expansion will cost about $1 billion.

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Volume 5, Issue 8, June 5, 2014

Rather Than Rush to Expand an Unreliable System, the Pentagon Should Fix What It Already Has

The next test of the U.S. Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) system will occur "very soon," Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said May 28. And if that test is a success, he said, the Pentagon plans to add 14 interceptors to the 30 deployed in Alaska and California by 2017, increasing the total by almost 50 percent. This expansion will cost about $1 billion.

But the next test, even if it hits, should not be used as justification to expand the system. As Philip Coyle, former director of operational test and evaluation at the Department of Defense, said in February, "Not another dime should be spent on more bad GBIs at Fort Greely [in Alaska] or anywhere else. Instead, a new GBI/EKV must be designed, built, and successfully tested to replace the old design."

The Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) is supposed to collide with an enemy warhead in space. But the kill vehicle to be tested this month, called the CE-II, has been tested only twice before, and missed both times. If it hits in June, the test record would be one-for-three. Batting .333 may be great in baseball, but in missile defense it is simply inadequate.

That's not all. Last summer the other fielded kill vehicle, the CE-I, also missed its target in a test. This failure came as a surprise, because this interceptor had a better test record. After $40 billion spent and faced with failures of both the CE-I and CE-II, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) decided to make major changes to the kill vehicle. But these changes will not be ready by 2017, so expansion will go ahead without them.

Given the widely accepted need--on both sides of the aisle--to redesign the system, plans to expand it before it is reworked make little sense. It would be like buying a car just after it has been recalled, before the problem is fully corrected.


Why the rush? It is easy to say that "we must stay ahead of the threat," and yes, the United States needs to be ready in case North Korea or Iran actually tests and deploys a long-range ballistic missile that could reach North America. But neither nation has done this, and if they do there are already 30 GBI interceptors fielded on the West Coast.

Fortunately, these missile programs are not progressing as swiftly as many had feared, and deterrence still plays a role. As Adm. Winnefeld said May 28, neither North Korea nor Iran "yet has a mature [long-range ballistic missile] capability, and both nations know they would face an overwhelming U.S. response to any attack."

The Pentagon should prioritize upgrading the kill vehicle, a process that will take a few years, and not expand the system beyond the current 30 GBIs until the new interceptor is proven to work.

As a result, the Obama administration should not follow through with plans to deploy 14 additional interceptors in Alaska by 2017, nor should it heed Republican calls to build a new East Coast site.

"Bad Engineering"

There have been serious concerns about the GBI kill vehicle ever since the system was rushed into service by the Bush administration in 2004. Of primary concern is that the system's test record is getting worse with time, not better. Overall, out of 16 intercept attempts from 1999 to 2013, the system hit 8 times, or 50%. For the first 8 tests, the system had 5 hits, or 62%. But in the last 8 tests, the system has hit only 3 times, or 37%. This is not progress.

In January, J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's current director of operational test and evaluation, wrote that recent test failures raise concerns about the system's reliability and suggested that the missile's kill vehicle be redesigned to assure it is "robust against failure."

"We recognize the problems we have had with all the currently fielded interceptors," Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for procurement, said in February. "The root cause was a desire to field these things very quickly and really cheaply."

"As we go back and understand the failures we're having and why we're having them, we're seeing a lot of bad engineering, frankly, and it is because there was a rush" to deploy the system, Kendall said. "Just patching the things we've got is probably not going to be adequate. So we're going to have to go beyond that."

In March, the MDA announced that it would make significant changes to the EKV, and plans to spend $740 million over the next five years to do so. If it works, the new kill vehicle could be fielded around 2020. According to the fiscal 2015 Pentagon budget request, the new kill vehicle "will improve reliability, be more producible and cost-effective, and will eventually replace the [kill vehicles] on the current GBI fleet."

Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the MDA, said in March about the decision to rush deployment in 2004: "Everybody knew that [the EKVs] were prototype in nature, and that decision was made to field the prototypes because some defense now is better than defense much later."

But we now know how premature, unreliable and expensive "some defense" turned out to be. Ten years later, the North Korean long-range missile threat is still not imminent. The last three intercept tests of the GBI system have failed--two tests in 2010 and one last year. And efforts to correct these problems will cost MDA more than $1.3 billion, according to an April 30 Government Accountability Office report.

Next Test Will Not Justify Expansion

The next GBI test will not be of a redesigned EKV; that will not occur until 2018 or later. The June test will involve 'patching' the CE-II.  

Since 10 CE-IIs are already deployed in Alaska, the problems with this EKV need to be addressed. If the next test is successful, the deployed CE-IIs should be modified. But this EKV, according to officials, is inherently flawed and based on a "prototype" design. Why would we want to field additional kill vehicles of a flawed design? We should not.

Therefore, if successful, the next test could help 'patch' the CE-IIs that are already in the field, but the numbers should not be increased until an upgraded EKV is ready. It's bad enough that the United States already has 30 interceptors deployed that are unreliable; we should not rush to add more at the cost of $1 billion.

If the Pentagon succeeds in developing a new kill vehicle that works reliably in 'cooperative' tests, which are scripted and unrealistic, the system would still need to prove that it could work in an actual attack, in which the enemy would seek to evade the defense.

In this case, the ability to differentiate real targets from fake ones is critical because an attacker's warheads would likely come surrounded by debris and decoys. In congressional testimony last year, the Pentagon's Gilmore said, "If we can't discriminate what the real threatening objects are, it doesn't matter how many ground-based interceptors we have; we won't be able to hit what needs to be hit."

Throwing good money after bad at missile defenses that may not defend is no solution. "Patching" inherently unreliable interceptors is not the same thing as redesigning them so they will work. The United States should not field additional long-range missile interceptors on either coast until the current system is redesigned and-most importantly-tested rigorously against realistic targets.--Tom Z. Collina

 

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European Missile Defense No Answer to Russia

USS Monterey armed with SM-3 Block IA interceptors and the Aegis missile defense system. The SM-3 cannot intercept Russian long-range missiles. The just-passed House Armed Services Committee plan to accelerate U.S. missile defense deployments in Poland to counter Russian action in Ukraine is all bark and no bite. By Tom Z. Collina The United States has a strategic interest in establishing economic and political stability in Ukraine, reassuring nervous NATO allies, and warning Russia that further interference in Ukraine or elsewhere would be a serious mistake. Congress, however, should be...

Missile Defense Budget Holds Steady

The Missile Defense Agency’s budget focuses on restoring confidence in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system while keeping other aspects of U.S. missile defense plans moving forward.

Eric Auner

The recently unveiled budget for the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) focuses on restoring confidence in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system while keeping other aspects of the Obama administration’s ballistic missile defense plans moving forward. The administration’s missile defense budget request for fiscal year 2015 came in at $8.5 billion, including $7.5 billion for the MDA, representing a stable funding level compared to previous years despite cuts in other parts of the defense budget.

Congress appropriated $7.6 billion for the MDA for fiscal year 2014.

In the March 4 press conference announcing the budget, MDA Director Vice Adm. James Syring said that the MDA will invest approximately $100 million to “initiate the redesign” of the Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) kill vehicle, the part of the interceptor designed to seek out and destroy an incoming missile with a kinetic impact. A separate line item of around $26 million is devoted to “common kill vehicle technology,” which will be used to “breed the technologies and improvements” for the GBI kill vehicle and potentially other interceptors such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), Syring said.

The GMD system has not had a successful intercept test since 2008, and the two currently deployed versions of the GBI kill vehicle, the CE-I and CE-II, have failed to intercept targets in the three tests since then. Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said in recent remarks that the GBI system suffered from “bad engineering” due to an accelerated deployment schedule.

According to Syring, the MDA will resume intercept flight tests of the GMD system later this year.

The administration has a special interest in improving the performance of the GMD system after its decision in March of last year to cancel the SM-3 IIB interceptor, which was intended to supplement the GMD system as a means of defending U.S. territory from long-range missiles, and to deploy 14 additional interceptors in Alaska in response to concerns about the threat posed by North Korean missiles.

Syring confirmed that the MDA still plans to deploy the additional GBI missiles by 2017.

In a March 12 e-mail to Arms Control Today, George Lewis, a physicist who is a senior research associate at Cornell University’s Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, characterized the system’s current reliability as “quite low” and said that the test programs for other missile defense programs, such as Navy’s sea-based Aegis air and missile defense system, show “clearly” that the reliability of the GBI missiles “can be significantly improved.”

Lewis said, however, that the debate over the GMD system is not just about the ability of the interceptors to function as intended. “The fundamental technical dispute between GMD supporters and critics is whether or not it is even possible to build a system that can deal with possible countermeasures,” such as inflatable decoys that may be difficult to distinguish from nuclear warheads in the vacuum of space, he said. Even with a better kill vehicle and improved capabilities to discriminate between real missiles and countermeasures, “this will almost certainly remain in dispute,” he said.

Some lawmakers continue to call for the construction of an additional GMD site on the U.S. East Coast. The MDA is currently conducting an environmental impact study and evaluating a number of locations, but has not decided to move ahead with construction of the site.

The MDA is also continuing to invest in the Obama administration’s regional ballistic missile defense systems, especially the European Phased Adaptive Approach. In his March 4 remarks, Syring said the United States still plans to deploy land-based Aegis Ashore sites, which are currently under construction and which the U.S. Navy will operate, in Romania in 2015 and Poland in 2018. The budget request includes more than $700 million for Aegis-related procurement, including additional copies of existing SM-3 interceptor designs IA and IB. It also would provide $263 million specifically for development of the SM-3 IIA version.

The fiscal year 2015 budget request includes approximately $96.8 million for cooperative programs with Israel. Last year, the administration requested about the same amount, and Congress appropriated $283.8 million. Much of the spending so far has enabled Israel to buy additional batteries and interceptors for its Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which is not a ballistic missile defense system but is nevertheless funded through the MDA budget. The request designates $175 million for Israel’s procurement for the Iron Dome program, down from $220 million appropriated for fiscal year 2014. The United States is cooperatively developing and producing other systems with Israel, including the Arrow-2, Arrow-3, and David’s Sling interceptors and associated sensors and other assets.

Although the recent budget request generally represents a continuation of established policies, some in Congress have suggested that the administration should return to the George W. Bush administration’s missile defense plans in eastern Europe in reaction to Russian actions in Crimea. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a recent statement that President Barack Obama’s ballistic missile defense policies had “collapsed” and that the administration should “engage in a full re-assessment of our missile defense posture in Europe with the purpose of restoring or expanding the installations cancelled in 2009.”

The "Cold Peace:" Arms Control After Crimea

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As President Vladimir Putin exploits the results of Crimea's illegitimate referendum and as Russian troops gather on Ukraine's eastern border, alarms have been raised in the West that U.S.-Russian relations are on the verge of plummeting to Cold War levels.

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Volume 5, Issue 5, March 20, 2014

As President Vladimir Putin exploits the results of Crimea's illegitimate referendum and as Russian troops gather on Ukraine's eastern border, alarms have been raised in the West that U.S.-Russian relations are on the verge of plummeting to Cold War levels.

American politicians and pundits have presented an array of policy response options, including intensified NATO military activities in Russia's "near abroad" and retreat from cooperative endeavors in U.S.-Russian arms control. At such times, there is a critical need for prudence, rationality, and historical perspective, and for avoiding actions that are counterproductive to the interests of the United States and our European allies.

Russia's actions certainly require a strong response, including international condemnation and measured sanctions against key Russian figures. The fragile new government in Kiev also needs assistance to put the country's economy on a more stable footing and to help counter any Russian efforts to intimidate Ukraine or seize additional territory.

However, U.S. policymakers should recognize that despite the severe differences with President Putin over Ukraine, it is clearly in the national interests of the United States to

  • scrupulously implement existing arms control treaty verification measures, which provide vital information and help to ensure compliance with treaty limits regarding Russian and U.S. military capabilities;
  • reduce expenditures on nuclear weapons that have no marginal utility and continue to seek further reductions in the still oversized nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States;
  • refrain from using strategic weapons to make political gestures;
  • redouble efforts to maintain dialogue between U.S. and Russian nongovernmental experts and organizations.

A Cold Peace, Not a New Cold War
It is also important to avoid facile comparisons with the four-decade-long, post-World War II confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. As Cold War veteran Jack Matlock, the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow during the Gorbachev era, recently observed, "The tensions between Russia and the West are [now] based more on misunderstandings, misrepresentations and posturing for domestic audiences than on any real clash of ideologies or national interests."

By the end of the second term of President George W. Bush, Russia's relationship with the United States and Western Europe was already troubled; Russia's war with Georgia in 2008 had cast a particular chill over a range of diplomatic undertakings. Although the Obama administration's "reset" in 2009 facilitated negotiation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a new "Cold Peace" had settled over bilateral relations.

Today, Russia's behavior often appears to be driven by President Putin's interest in maintaining a strong grip on power inside Russia and to prevent more of the states of the former Soviet Union from integrating into the European economic and political sphere.

In contrast, the Cold War was a global struggle involving the near constant threat of a direct military confrontation and frequent proxy wars. Throughout much of the Cold War, more than 250,000 Soviet troops were positioned along the border of West Germany to seize isolated West Berlin and drive toward the English Channel. That border divided not only a nation, but two powerful military alliances, each possessing vast nuclear arsenals maintained on high alert and targeted against each other. At the time, many American politicians depicted a growing Soviet superiority--not only in conventional forces in Europe, but in continent-spanning strategic missiles and ballistic missile defense systems, which allegedly enabled Moscow to pose the threat of a disarming, first-strike attack on the United States.

The Cold War also demonstrated dramatically the extent of nuclear dangers in the ideologically driven confrontation between Moscow and Washington. Indeed, the world came far closer to a nuclear exchange in 1962 (during the Cuban Missile Crisis) and in 1983 (following the Soviet shootdown of the Korea Airlines passenger plane and during NATO's "Able Archer" military exercises) than was publicly known at the time.

The striking dissimilarity between the present and that earlier era is captured by comparing the Cold War Soviet Threat Assessments of the U.S. intelligence community with its 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, whose 27-page public summary did not even mention Russia's nuclear arsenal.

At the same time, there are two elements of conspicuous continuity between the past and present.

First, Washington and Moscow still possess huge nuclear arsenals, far larger than those of all other nuclear weapons states combined. These arsenals contain thousands of warheads--each one of which dwarfs the destructive power of those that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki--far more than are needed for any rational requirement of nuclear deterrence and beyond any possible utility for political leverage in the current crisis over Ukraine.

Second, as was the case during the Cold War, reducing nuclear dangers rightly trumps other issues. During the lowest points of the U.S.-Soviet relationship, arms control agreements helped prevent a complete collapse of bilateral communication. The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty survived the Vietnam War and crises in the Middle East; the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty survived the 1981 declaration of martial law in Poland and the 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.

The conflicting interests of the United States and Russia in Ukraine or Syria today do not erase their joint interests in reducing the risks of nuclear weapons accidents or unauthorized nuclear weapons use, curbing the spread of nuclear weapons, securing vulnerable nuclear weapons usable material to avoid terrorist acquisition, and reducing their own costly nuclear arsenals, which still vastly exceed common-sense deterrence requirements. These and other common concerns make it imperative that Washington and Moscow continue pursuing efforts to achieve reductions in and limitations on nuclear weapons - independent of the health of the bilateral relationship at a particular point in time.  

Russia's provocative actions in Crimea and the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations certainly make the pursuit of a cooperative agenda even more challenging and there is more than a theoretical danger of backsliding. Yet, even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union shared a common interest in reducing nuclear risks and found ways to overcome ideological differences to pursue joint initiatives and agreements designed to reduce those risks and strengthen strategic stability.

The rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine makes it difficult to offer a detailed formula for preserving and promoting advantageous U.S.-Russian arms control and nuclear security outcomes, but some general principles can be outlined:

Continue to scrupulously implement existing treaty verification measures. No matter what their differences on the Ukraine crisis, it is not in the interest of either the United States or Russia to suspend inspections required by New START or to otherwise walk away from a treaty, which establishes clear, verifiable limits on each side's strategic nuclear arsenal--a measure of stability in an otherwise strained bilateral relationship. Weakening the implementation of verification measures would simply reduce the confidence levels of national threat assessments, leading to higher "worst case" projections and increased strategic spending.

Furthermore, according to Part Five, Section IX of the Protocol of the New START Treaty, the only basis for the cancellation of inspections are "circumstances brought about by force majeure," which do not apply to political differences over events in Ukraine.

Continue to reduce expenditures on nuclear weapons that have no marginal utility. Even at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions, Washington can and should reduce spending for those nuclear weapons that have no utility as instruments of power in dealing with political crises like Ukraine. The new Quadrennial Defense Review says that the United States can cut strategic warheads by one-third below New START and still provide more than sufficient nuclear firepower to deter nuclear attack. Now is the time to avoid squandering tens of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons projects that the United States does not need and cannot afford.

Refrain from using strategic weapons to make aggressive political gestures. U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are not militarily useful for the defense of NATO allies. Some have recently suggested that such weapons should be deployed further east into the newer NATO members bordering on Russia. However, such action would be politically divisive inside the NATO Alliance and would likely provoke dangerous responses by Moscow.

Some have suggested accelerating the ongoing deployment of U.S. missile defenses to Europe under the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), reviving the "third-site" deployment of strategic missile interceptors to Poland, or deploying missile defense cruisers to the Baltic and Black Seas. Such moves would be extremely counterproductive, since they would seem to validate Russian suspicions that U.S. missile defenses in Europe have either been oriented against them all along, or at least would provide the infrastructure for rapidly adding a capability to threaten Russia's strategic deterrent.

Moreover, as the U.S. Government has continually insisted, none of the specific U.S. missile defense systems considered for deployment in Europe would be capable of defending Europe (or the United States) from Russian strategic forces.  NATO should therefore maintain its steady course in implementing the first three phases of the EPAA, which do not include defenses against ICBMs, in response to evolving missile threats from the Middle East. Moreover, NATO should articulate more clearly its readiness to adapt downward its EPAA deployments if no Iranian IRBM/ICBM threat materializes.

Redouble efforts to maintain "Track 2" dialogue between American and Russian interlocutors. At a time of strained relations between the U.S. and Russian governments, it is even more important to use unofficial channels of communication to better understand the differing national perspectives and to search for policy options that would constitute acceptable compromises by both sides. One such ongoing effort is the German/Russian/U.S. Commission on "Challenges to Deep Cuts in Nuclear Arms," www.deepcuts.org, which is scheduled to release an interim report in late April.

Above all, the United States and Russia need to maintain a realistic perspective about the limits of hostility imposed by the existence of each other's nuclear weapons and an active appreciation of the mutual benefits they are now enjoying from cooperative endeavors - such as the generation of electricity in the United States from Russian-supplied fissile material and the security provided by a northern route of supply (through Russia) for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

When the current tensions subside, there will be other cooperative opportunities to exploit in the bilateral relationship and none will be more important for the world than finding the elusive path to mutual reductions in Cold War-sized U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.--GREG THIELMANN

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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