President Trump's Confidence In Missile Defense Is A Dangerous Illusion

Authored by Andrei Akulov via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

The US is pushing ahead with expansion of the nation’s homeland ballistic missile defense (BMD). The effort enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress and among experts. Many allies place a high value on BMD cooperation with the United States. However, there are ample reasons to question the efficiency of US missile defenses, especially the capability to protect against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

“We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97% of the time,” President Donald Trump said in his interview with Fox News on October 11, adding “and if you send two of them, it’s going to get knocked down.” He was talking about the threat coming from North Korea to be repelled by the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) in Alaska and California – the $40 billion project administered by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

The US military conducted the first-ever missile defense test involving a simulated attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile in May. The ICBM-type target was fired from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands toward the waters just south of Alaska. The mission was to prepare for countering an intercontinental missile launched by North Korea. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) described the test as an “incredible accomplishment”. According to Vice Admiral Jim Syring, director of the agency, “This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.” The assessment appears to be exaggerated as the test was not conducted in a realistic environment.

The next test of the GMD system is scheduled for late 2018 and, for the first time, will involve firing two interceptors against one ICBM target. It makes unsubstantiated the president’s affirmation that two interceptors are enough to knock out a North Korean missile as no such tests have been conducted so far.

The US currently deploys 36 interceptors – 32 at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. By the end of 2017, there will be 44 deployed GBIs. A majority of the interceptors use the CE-I variant of kill vehicle that has scored only two successes in four tests. At least ten interceptors are to be equipped with the CE-II Block I vehicle, which has had two successful intercept tests in three tries.

It is generally believed that it takes at least four-five interceptors to hit the target. It means President Trump is off base saying the hit probability is 97%. Prior to the ICBM test, the GMD system had successfully hit its target in only ten of 18 tests since 1999. A success rate is about 56%, not 97%. But even 56% is almost certainly an overstatement, given the less-than-realistic nature of the tests.

A success rate for four-five interceptors per target may be 97% but the possibility that each successive interceptor’s chance of successful kill might not be independent of the previous one, due to correlated factors such as design shortcomings, leading to a lower overall success rate. Nevertheless, President Trump believes each interceptor has a single-shot probability of kill (SSPK) for a given interceptor of 97% (rather than 56%).

According to the Washington Post, “No single interceptor for ICBMs has demonstrated a 97-percent success rate, and there is no guarantee using two interceptors has a 100-percent success rate. Moreover, the military’s suggestion that it could achieve a 97-percent success rate with four interceptors appears based on faulty assumptions and overenthusiastic math. The odds of success under the most ideal conditions are no better than 50-50, and likely worse, as documented in detailed government assessment.”

Joe Cirincione, the President of Ploughshares Fund and the author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, investigated anti-missile programs for almost 10 years as professional staff on the House Armed Services and Government Operations Committees. He believes that “If people took a close look at just one of these interceptor tests, they would likely conclude, as I did, that the tests bear little resemblance to real-world conditions.”

If North Korea fired an ICBM - or multiple ICBMs - at the United States, the GMD with its Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) is only one system that could take a shot at intercepting and destroying the warhead outside the earth’s atmosphere in midcourse flight. Other missile defense systems such as THAAD and Aegis are in no position to hit ICBMs as they’re designed for other classes of targets.

With only one test against an ICBM, the MDA is not even close to demonstrating that the system works in a real-world setting. The GMD systems have not yet been tested in the range of conditions under which it is expected to operate. No tests have been conducted at night or against complex countermeasures, such as electronic countermeasures and decoys. The tests are always rigged because the intercept team knows the timing and trajectory of the incoming missile. But even the scripted tests have often failed. What has been done so far is insufficient to demonstrate that an operational BMD capability really exists.

The US has not publicly conducted any tests to see whether the missile-defense radars can distinguish a missile from chaff. Even cheap inflatable balloons can make all intercept efforts go down the drain. With no air resistance (or drag) in space, a decoy like a balloon shaped like a nuclear warhead could travel in the same way as the true warhead, making it difficult for a missile to distinguish the real thing from the decoy. Balloons are light enough to enable a sophisticated warhead launch 20 or 30 decoy balloons to obscure the path of the warhead, swamping the defense system with fake signals.

In February and April 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessed that the MDA has not “demonstrated through flight testing that it can defend the US homeland against the current missile defense threat,” relying on “a highly optimistic, aggressive schedule” to upgrade the system.

The US abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, which greatly obstructed arms control process. Efficient or not, the US current and potential BMD capability is taken into consideration to influence Russia’s military planning. It provokes Moscow into taking countermeasures to respond to BMD plans and negatively affects the prospects for future Russia-US arms control agreements. With uncertainties raised about the strict balance of arms agreed upon in New START, a chain reaction is triggered leading to arms race.

Philip Giraldi, a highly respected expert and the Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, believes that the American people are being fooled by the administration, which tries to make them think that a nuclear war is thinkable. According to him, “If that is the message being sent by the White House, it would encourage further reckless adventurism on the part of the national security state.” Mr. Giraldi hit the nail right on the head. The GMD effort creates a dangerous illusion that a victory in a nuclear conflict is achievable and no money should be spared to spur the implementation of the MDA plans. In reality, the US defense industry is the only benefactor while the taxpayers throw money into the drain. The result: further erosion of arms control and reduced security.


Beam Me Up Scotty ebworthen Sun, 10/29/2017 - 22:38 Permalink

So if Russia fires 2000 warheads at us, and we get 97% of them, that means 60 get through.  60 major cities turned to ash.  You think it matters if its 60 or 2000 that get through?  Life is over.  Either way.And if you think you are going to hide in your "bunker" and pop back out to normal life, forget it.  Hope you can live for 100's if not 1000's of years in your hole in the ground, when all of the world's nuclear power plants go critical after a nuclear exchange.  Think Fukishima X 100's.

In reply to by ebworthen

caconhma Arnold Sun, 10/29/2017 - 23:23 Permalink

As somebody with a knowledge, I can say that without space-based systems (tracking systems, interceptors, etc.,) any missile defense is useless. 30 years ago, Reagan's SDI program was correctly thought as a space-based system. Physics did not change since then. The bottom line: due to Trump's gigantic incompetence, the USA is in a grave danger.

In reply to by Arnold

jcaz caconhma Mon, 10/30/2017 - 01:34 Permalink

Here's a nutty thought- if this shit doesn't work as advertised, then let's STOP WASTING MONEY ON IT......Reagan's program has long ago been exposed to have been nothing more than a propoganda hoax- it worked, they blinked.For someone with "knowledge",  you're missing the very simple point-  this garbage has been going on for a long time, and your attempt to put it on Trump NOW is stunningly simple-minded;What next- are you going to blame Trump for Obamacare?  Genius.Fuck off, retard.

In reply to by caconhma

aurum4040 Oldwood Mon, 10/30/2017 - 00:45 Permalink

Exactly. Intelligence on ZH has regressed significantly since site inception in '09, of newer members that is. Blindly 'analyzing' from a sea level vantage point then posting thoughts trapped in a box when truly intelligent decisions and comments are made looking down from 30,000 ft. A man with an IQ of 158 knows damn well what he's doing and saying. Its been 2 years since Trump made his 'insane' decision to run for President, I think its time to stop under estimating the man on this level. Beyond time. 

In reply to by Oldwood

gregga777 IH8OBAMA Sun, 10/29/2017 - 23:58 Permalink

[This information is based on non-classified documentation.]

The problem with lasers is that the beam experiences even greater attenuation and dispersion in the atmosphere. The power levels either have to be extremely enormous (Tera-watt range) to get enough energy on target or the laser needs to be very, very close to destroy the launcher in the boost phase. The reentry vehicles are even harder to destroy because they are designed to experience significant atmospheric heating on reentry. The United States Air Force had the Boeing Company working on a 747 Airborned Laser System. It had to be based on a 747 because the continuous power requirements were enormous and the laser weight was enormous (amongst a host of other issues).

In reply to by IH8OBAMA

Nage42 tmosley Mon, 10/30/2017 - 08:41 Permalink

The Russians wouldn't, but the infiltrator they put into the launch facility or the tacteam that breached a forward base in Ukraine that launched on the Russians would provoke a response. P.S.  Even back in the late 70s, the Russian ICBM big bad boys with the real megatonage had 15-20+ passive decoys in _each_ missle... So... ya... my guess is that "modern" (read circa ~1990) would have 40+ active/passive decoys per vehicle, probably at launch 10 active side launches to confuse ground-based telemetry, then 20+ for exo-atmo space-based intercepts (maser, laser, electro-rail, etc), then 10+ forward launch decoys as ablative for any from-ground-target interception (i.e., electro-rail phalanx). Missle defence = a sham.  But trying to develop it forces Russia into asymetrical solutions (read: burried chem/viral, EMP critical-infra, purposful citizenry uprest [shut down STAMP], something volcanic/tectonic...). Read your history... the "lesson" is ALWAYS:  "don't fscking go to war with Russians, they will simply out-suffer you into submission."  It's a lose-lose... and they are _not afraid_ to lose WITH you, finger for finger, eye for eye, and child for child.

In reply to by tmosley

gregga777 AutoLode Sun, 10/29/2017 - 23:51 Permalink

They aren't talking about your birthday party-type balloon. It is no secret that balloons (actually gas-filled radar reflectors) are a valid decoy for the in-space phase of a ballistic missile single or multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) warhead launch. That is because in space the balloons will maintain position with the reentry vehicle(s) and will provide a radar return obscuring the real reentry vehicle. It's like a space-based version of chaff.

In reply to by AutoLode

DaBard51 Sun, 10/29/2017 - 22:38 Permalink

ABM defence success chances:  slim, or none.  Choose, you must.  When nine hundred years old you become, look this good you will not.

HRClinton roddy6667 Mon, 10/30/2017 - 00:18 Permalink

Kudos for an astute observation. I was going to say something along similar lines, i.e."Why not use fishing boats or other ships, to fire a much smaller (1000-2000 mi. range) ballistic missile from, say, 200-500 miles offshore? Or from a sub, 50-100 miles offshore? And bear in mind that any and all attacks would start with an EMP attack, that sets us back into the 1800s anyway?"

In reply to by roddy6667

roddy6667 roddy6667 Mon, 10/30/2017 - 23:52 Permalink

My wife lived in Brooklyn, NY back when we were dating in the days just after 9-11. We would sit by New York Harbor in the park that is under the Verazzano Narrows Bridge and watch the ships come and go. Any one of the ships, including fishing boats, pleasure craft and sailboats, could be carrying a hydrogen bomb and go right up to with a few hundred yards of Wall Street. It's like that in any American port city. People are watching the sky when the real danger is much closer. 

In reply to by roddy6667

WTFUD Sun, 10/29/2017 - 22:48 Permalink

Wish i could get paid for building shit that doesn't work. Gotta hand it to Vichy DC/MIC/Deep State who always get a year end bonus, just for Being There.

Thordoom Sun, 10/29/2017 - 22:49 Permalink

The pencils generals are the worse. They love wars. When i look at them i see nothing but self admiration ,money, hollywood, corruption and worst of all ideologues believing they are superiour above all. Ideologicly driven people are dangerous. They lack reason and logic in most cases. The problem is Trump is loving the ideology of US supremacy over all. His militaristic moves proves me righ. Generals all over the goverment spells disaster. 

gregga777 Thordoom Sun, 10/29/2017 - 23:45 Permalink

In the US Military the generals and admirals lead from the rear, the very far rear. They never want to risk their precious asses by getting close to the fighting. That's one reason why the US hasn't won any war on its own since the Spanish-American War and none against a credible foe since the Civil War. Say what you want about their ideology, but the German Imperial Army and Nazi Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS and the the Soviet Union's Red Army generals led from the front and frequently paid the price in death or capture. You'll never find a US General officer anywhere near the front. In Vietnam the asswipes frequently hovered above the battlefield in choppers at 10,000 feet ASL. That's the closest they ever got to a battlefield.

In reply to by Thordoom

Fecund Stench Sun, 10/29/2017 - 23:03 Permalink

The only way to reliably defend against ICBMs is with satellite-borne missiles or lasers, neither of which exist.The Russians claim to have sub-launched rockets deploying gliders containing multi-stage missiles with nuke warheads.This arrangement obviates the necessity of one weapon achieving escape velocity and surviving reentry.Rather than relying on lobbyists for weapons development, they break problems into separate solutions, resulting in multi-stage munitions approaching the target at several times the speed of sound, rendering intercept impossible.Anything moving at that speed possesses a kinetic force equal to or greater than that of a tactical nuke.In other words, their munitions, associated telemetry and defensive electronic countermeasures far outpace anything we will ever achieve.This is the kind of thing which tends to happen when you threaten people with thermonuclear destruction for over 70 years.BTW, the US hasn't tested an ICBM with a nuke warhead since 1962.Meanwhile, Putin personally launched four conventional ICBM versions last week.NATO forces looking on in Poland and Kaliningrad soiled themselves.Russians own the battlefield in Ukraine and Syria.  We are reduced to terrorism.So much for American exceptionalism.