Following the failure of the July 5 intercept test of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) missile defense system, Senator Dick Durbin (D–IL) commented that “this is a system that still hasn’t been proven to be able to protect America.” Durbin added that he does not see the value in allocating more funds for the GMD program.
The GMD system is designed to protect the U.S. territory from long-range ballistic missile attack. Rather than cutting it, the government should focus on strengthening the testing regime.
At a Foreign Policy Initiative event on Tuesday, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R–NH) described Durbin’s conclusion as “the wrong approach,” adding that “if funding had not been slashed, this July 5th failure might not have occurred, or we might have intercepted the problem much sooner than we have now.… But the bottom line of mine is that the flight test failure demonstrates the need to devote sufficient attention and resources to our national missile defense.”
As Baker Spring, the F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation, points out, the issues with the GMD system stem from a weak development and testing regime than can otherwise be strengthened.
The Navy’s successful Aegis system has proven this, as it shares the same method with the GMD system—to destroy attacking missiles with a direct hit—but has a disciplined development and testing regime. It has 25 successful intercepts in 31 attempts. The GMD can be improved by replicating the approach to testing and development that the Aegis program enjoys.
Even Durbin recognizes Aegis’s success, and commented that “the net outcome is the Aegis system is reliable, and we count on it to protect our nation.”
As Spring plainly puts it, the United States should “mend it, not end it.” A better approach in the GMD system will undoubtedly provide better protection for the United States from a ballistic missile attack, especially in uncertain times, as Iran and North Korea continue to develop their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Joshua Holdenried is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.