D. Dowd Muska


A ‘Fresh Perspective’ on DOD Pork

June 18, 2015

Creates jobs in my district? Check.

Likely to help the local military installation slip the noose during the next round of Base Realignment and Closure? Yep.

Strengthens my rep as a “defender of the homeland”? Sure thing.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik ran for office in 2014 promising to “bring a fresh perspective” to New York’s 21st Congressional District. If the Republican’s rabid campaign to secure a new site for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is any indication, her constituents should prepare for more of the same.

GMD is another unwanted legacy of George W. Bush’s administration. With irresponsible optimism, the 43rd president signed off on an initial anti-ICBM architecture not long after 9/11. Problems, as many predicted, sprung up from the get-go. Flight-test failures have been far too common, and the schedule for proving proficiency has slipped by years. According to the Government Accountability Office’s most recent examination of missile-defense efforts, GMD has yet to demonstrate several real-world capabilities, including “intercepting a target representative of an intercontinental ballistic missile; performing a salvo test where two interceptors are utilized against a single target; and performing a long time of flight intercept.”

It gets worse. GMD’s “fleet of currently deployed … interceptors are in need of upgrades and retrofits to address prior test failures.” (The cost to correct one family of boosters has ballooned from $236 million to just under $2 billion.) Nonetheless, it will take the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) years to fully address the problems. Meanwhile, the bureaucracy will be working on a overhauled “kill vehicle,” the “seventh major attempt to fix and improve the current … design.”

Moving ahead on a third site is madness, until the MDA gets its house in order. In GAO’s assessment, the agency must stop “allowing production to get ahead of testing” and “provide a systematic view of its plans and progress for delivering … capabilities to external decision makers.”

Enter the missile defense cult. Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) a year before Stefanik was born. By the time the Millennial chose to pursue a career in “public service,” missile defense was an article of faith for conservative Republicans. The first Saddam Hussein smackdown was a landmark for true believers. What a brilliant job those Patriot batteries did, knocking down Scud after Scud! In NEWSWEEK, neocon Ken Adelman swooned: “The Patriot is a sort of SDI Jr., based on the principles of the larger model.”

Years later, the truth about the Patriot’s performance finally emerged. As military analyst Fred Kaplan wrote at the start of the second attack on Iraq, a “report by the [GAO] concluded that Patriot missiles destroyed only 9 percent of the Scuds they tried to engage. The Israeli Defense Force calculated they’d destroyed just 2 percent. William Cohen, Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense, admitted upon leaving office in January 2001, ‘The Patriot didn’t work.’”

Advocates of faith-based national security were unfazed. At the end of Bush’s first term -- funny coincidence, right? -- GMD silos were established in Alaska and California. And many more components of a “layered defense” received funding. In April, the Los Angeles Times tallied the cost of just four of the failures that followed: the Airborne Laser ($5.3 billion), Sea-Based X-Band Radar ($2.2 billion), Kinetic Energy Interceptor ($1.7 billion), and Multiple Kill Vehicle ($770 million.)

A third GMD base, proponents claim, will protect the East Coast from a launch by the crazed mullahs of Persia. Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario for Iran’s missile competency is unpersuasive. In February, the Arms Control Association’s Greg Thielmann noted that “Iran has long denied an interest in even developing an ICBM and has not flight-tested military missile systems with operational ranges beyond some 2,000 kilometers.” Then there’s the issue of national suicide -- public support for a total annihilation of Iran would be near 100 percent if the country fired a nuke at America.

Finally, let’s not forget that pressure for an East Coast facility isn’t coming from the military. As POLITICO reported, the “Pentagon has repeatedly said it doesn’t need -- nor can it afford -- a third anti-missile battery.”

Undeterred, Stefanik is pushing a $30 million appropriation for “planning, design, and construction” of the site. Her district includes Fort Drum, which is one of the four finalists in the GMD sweepstakes. It is essential, she believes, to “defend our nation” from “hostile incoming warheads.”

If Stefanik has any doubts about whether the system she wants to bring home to her district actually works, she’s keeping them to herself.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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