The USA Today cites an independent report that questions the effectiveness of the ground-based missile defense interceptors the United States plans to deploy in Europe to counter a potential long-range Iranian nuclear-tipped ballistic missile threat. The report comes from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an auditing and investigative arm of the Congress.
While GAO reports may be “independent,” that does not mean they provide a fair and credible assessment of Pentagon programs. Last week, Army leaders held a press conference after a GAO report claimed to have identified a $21 billion overrun in one of their programs. According to one press report: Lt. Gen N. Ross Thompson III, military deputy assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, sounded flabbergasted with GAO’s estimate. “I don’t know where they came up with the figure,” he said. “I don’t know where it came from.” Thompson added that he “liked data and facts” as much anyone, but said he gets frustrated when what he views as unsupported data becomes reported as truth.
The recent GAO report criticizing missile defense raises similar questions about the efficacy of GAO defense acquisition studies. For example, according to press reports the study says that US missile defenses, “have not demonstrated an ability to detect decoys.” This criticism makes little sense.
First, Iran has not yet developed a ballistic warhead decoy system. So it is not critical right now that the United States has a counter to something that does not yet exist. Indeed, the purpose of building interceptor defenses is to de-value the importance of ballistic missiles to Iran—and hopefully dissuade them from aggressively pursuing further developments.
Second, the current missile defense program has plans to conduct tests and develop countermeasures for “decoys” if it looks like the Iranians or North Koreans might potentially deploy them.
The “decoy” issue and other critical questions about missile defense are addressed in 33 Minutes a companion reader to the documentary film.