THE BLOG
07/11/2013 10:10 am ET Updated Sep 10, 2013

The Missing Missile

Back in 1981, when Newt Gingrich wandered into my office at CNN, attempting to get CNN's support for an anti-ballistic missile system, and I questioned its ability to succeed, and he had to admit that nobody really knew if it would work, I have doubted the program. I continue to be amazed at the confidence that the Pentagon has in anti-ballistic missiles and then amount of money it spends on it.

Last week's Pentagon test of the "Ground-based Midcourse Interceptor" (GBI) was a failure, but according to Inside Defense, "a senior Army general with the operational responsibility for the system... remains confident the 30 missile interceptors currently deployed could defend the nation against a ballistic attack from Korea or Iran." An earlier version of the vehicle had achieved three consecutive hits in 2008, and this test "was to validate improvements made in the operational CE-I fleet since 2008."

The "improvements" obviously didn't improve the GBI. Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, the head of Army Space and Missile Defense Command, said he stood by his previous statement that "I'm confident in the system that has been provided to us." Another "intercept test of a GBI carrying next generation Capability Enhancement-2 (CE-2) kill vehicle" is scheduled for this fall.

All of the above is a matter of money and sequestration thereof. The Pentagon wants Congress to provide between $229 million and $269 million that was not previously concluded in this year's spending program. A successful test, again according to Inside Defense, "would be enough to proceed with plans announced in March in response to increased threats from North Korea to buy and field 14 additional missiles." This would expand the GBI fleet... from 30 to 44 interceptors.

This year's Defense Authorization Act requires, according to Inside Defense, "that the Pentagon produce 'an explanation of testing options for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system' if plan flight tests do not demonstrate the successful correction of the program that caused a CE-2 failure in a 2012 intercept test." It seems to me that the Pentagon is asking for a mulligan, having failed in one test this year they want more money to test again and again if necessary.

No one has ever said that anti-defense missiles are always successful. In 2010, the New York Times reported that MIT and Cornell physicists claimed anti-ballistic missiles failed 80 percent of the time, while the Pentagon says the tests have succeeded 84 percent of the time.

PopSci, quoting the Times article, said:

Two physicists from MIT and Cornell published a new analysis of the SM-3 in the May issue of Arms Control Today critiquing 10 tests of the SM-3 conducted between 2002 and 2009. The Missile Defense Agency and the Pentagon have hailed these tests as successes, with the interceptors nailing their targets 84 percent of the time. But MIT's Dr. Thomas Postol and Cornell's Dr. George Lewis claim that success rate is closer to 20 percent.

The Army claims an 84 percent hit rate. The scientists say that the missile warhead is hit only 20 percent of the time, and the warheads not hit land someplace and explode there.

At this point, I'm totally at sea. Even 20 percent of hits will destroy millions and millions of people. The other warhead hits would kill millions more in whatever countries they landed. Over the past 30 years, we've spent hundreds of billions of dollars on Newt's dream defense and none of us our safe. I guess the only good thing is, Newt never got to be president.