by Austin Bay
May 30, 2017
Scratch one Intercontinental Ballistic Missile -- and congratulations to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on its successful test of the Ground-based Missile Defense system.
On May 30, the GMD's sensor systems detected "an intercontinental-range" target missile on a track over the Pacific Ocean. Its long-range Ground-Based Interceptor and its exo-atmospheric kill vehicle combination intercepted and destroyed the target.
I doubt this successful test will curb North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's pathological belligerence. However, it politically and technologically bolsters allies like Japan, who no longer ignore Pyongyang's nuclear threats. On May 29, a North Korean test missile splashed down in Japanese water.
North Korea insistently threatens South Korea and Japan. Its newer missiles can strike Guam, Hawaii and parts of Alaska. It is developing ICBMs to hit Los Angeles and Washington.
The GMD and Israel's Arrow-3 are the world's only operational missile defense systems capable of intercepting ICBMs.
The GMD has a mission vital to the American people: the defense of continental North America against a limited attack by a nuclear-armed rogue state possessing improved intermediate range missiles and ICBMs.
This threat is real. Iran is also developing ICBMs. Missile defense is critical 21st century security. It protects constructive nations desiring peace and economic development from destructive, extortionist rogue states. Defending American citizens is missile defense's first priority. However, the ability to protect allies and neutrals generates diplomatic power. The system serves as a psychological counter to thug intimidation and thus creates political space for other diplomatic endeavors.
The U.S. and its allies have tested and deployed several capable "lower tier" anti-missile systems. When linked these systems provide a "thin," layered defense against enemy IRBMs. The Patriot PAC-3 and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missiles protect South Korea and Guam. Japan has the Patriot. The U.S. and Japan deploying AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense warships.
But now for the shameful fact: this latest test is the first live missile test since June 2014 and the first ever pitting the GBI-EKV combination against an ICBM.
Since 2000, MDA has conducted only 18 "end to end" tests of the GBI-EKV combination. The Pentagon rated 10 tests as successful. Three tests occurred at the tail end of the Clinton Administration, 11 during the Bush Administration and four during the Obama Administration's tenure. This week's test was the Trump Administration's first.
That is a sparse and fitful test program, especially given the warning time. In 1998, North Korea shocked Asia and America when it tested its first ballistic missile. In 2011, North Korea accelerated its missile testing and nuclear weapons programs.
Granted, the GMD is complex and expensive. Hitting a "bullet with a bullet" is very difficult. But so was landing on the Moon and creating America's Cold War missile arsenal. In the early days of the space race, American missiles routinely exploded on the pad, but NASA and the USAF kept on shooting.
Computer simulations are vital but can only do so much. Complex weapons systems must be repeatedly tested.
Ugly and stupid domestic politics had stymied missile defense development and slowed procurement. For over two decades, often-hysterical opposition from the American political left stalled deployment of an operational missile shield. Their hysteria was a fossil rite drawing on their Cold War opposition to President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.
During the Clinton Administration, left-liberal Democrats ritually demonized missile-defense. Testing and development slowed. In 2003, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi opined: "The United States does not need a multi-billion-dollar national missile defense against the possibility of a nuclear-armed ICBM. What we need is a strong nonproliferation policy with other nations to combat the most serious threat to our national security."
Hey Nancy, do you mean a strong nonproliferation policy, like the Clinton Administration's 1994 Agreed Framework? That deal gave Kim Jong Un's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, heavy fuel oil and technical assistance if Pyongyang shutdown its nuclear reactors producing weapons-grade plutonium. That charade failed, Nancy, utterly and completely.