GMD Missile Defense System Needs More Oversight, Group Says

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a longtime critic of U.S. missile defense programs, recommends in a new report that the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system receive greater oversight to help it overcome its history of reliability problems.

Eager to deploy GMD, the President George W. Bush Administration quickly fielded the long-range missile defense system without subjecting it to many of the traditional acquisition rules for new military systems, such as setting specific performance requirements and outlining the tests a system must pass before being considered operational. A similarly “lax approach” continued in the Obama Administration, the 60-page report contends. As a result, the GMD system has been plagued by test failures, with only a third of intercept attempts being successful since the system was deployed in 2004.

A Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Interceptor launch. Photo: Missile Defense Agency.

A Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Interceptor launch.
Photo: Missile Defense Agency.

To remedy the situation, the report offers a host of recommendations, including that the system face more frequent and rigorous tests, that a team outside MDA develop test targets and conditions and that the deployment of more interceptors be halted until the system’s flaws have been fixed.

“The GMD system’s exemption from the proven ‘fly-before-you-buy’ process has had dire and lasting consequences,” UCS wrote. “In short, the United States must fundamentally change its approach to strategic missile defense.”

In a statement, MDA said it is taking steps to improve the system’s reliability, including redesigning the interceptor’s exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV). “The redesigned kill vehicle (RKV) leverages mature technologies to offer superior operational effectiveness, reliability, producibility, testability, maintainability and affordability compared to the EKV," the agency wrote.

MDA is on track to increase the number of GMD interceptors from 30 to 44 by 2017 “in response to the growing threat from North Korea,” the statement continued.

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