The March 16, 2009 USA Today headline, “Reports question U.S. shield of Europe” by Ken Dilanian fueled an already on going controversy about the future of ground-based missile defense sites that are to be emplaced in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter a potential Iranian long-range ballistic missile threat against Europe and the United States. The headline refers to a report by the Government Accountability that was released later that day and a Congressional Budget Office study released earlier that month. The article, however, actually drew from a wide variety of sources to question the efficacy of ground-based missile defense without seriously testing the veracity of any of the questions raised about the cost and capabilities of the system.
Questioning the technical feasibility of missile defenses, Dilanian cited that “the type of ground-based interceptors that would be deployed in Europe failed to hit targets in five of 13 tests according to the Pentagon.” Dilanian did not explain, however, test failures in all ballistic missile development programs are not uncommon. The strategy is to “build,” then “test,” and then “modify and improve” system performance. As Lieutenant General Patrick J. O’Reilly, USA, Director, Missile Defense Agency noted in Congressional testimony on February 25, 2009, in the last three consecutive operationally-realistic tests of the system, “we have had three for three intercepts in its production hardware configuration, Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) flight testing….”
Dilanian further stated that “[t]he Europe system has not been tested.” He did not explain, however, that the system has not yet been built and that the system cannot be tested until the interceptors are assembled and the radars are emplaced.
Some more facts that USA Today failed to report:
- This system is the only defense that be built in the short term to protect America and most of Europe from an Iranian missile threat…without GMD there is no way to provide missile defense of the US homeland from Iran.
- This missile defense system would also protect the 70 percent of Europe. NATO has unanimously endorsed it.
- Missile defense is a bargain for the taxpayer, protecting the entire United States for two percent of the defense budget .
- The system has been rigorously tested for more than a decade.
- Cutting funding would hamstring the existing systems readiness and the ability to test to keep pace with evolving threats.