national missile defense


Just about every year Congress debates during budget time how much to put into a national missile defense program - an absolute must for our national security according to some and a foolish waste of money according to others. A new wrinkle in the debate was added in '06 when the US started talking about extending missile defense to Eastern Europe, a prospect Russia didn't take to too happily.

What is national missile defense:

  • National missile defense (NMD) is a broad term used to describe defense systems that protect America by intercepting missiles before they have a chance to land on us. Plans for creating a comprehensive NMD have been around since the 80's; they include different kinds of technologies from land, sea and space. Today, missile defense is mostly directed at protecting against missiles from North Korea, but the administration is starting to think about Iran as well.

What is being done today to build national missile defense

(GAO - pdf)

  • The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has different stages of plans from now through 2010. Currently, MDA is working on:

    • Initial Defensive Operations, to be complete by September 30, 2004: plans up to 10 interceptors and 5 missiles that would protect against limited long-range ballistic missile attacks from Northeast Asia.

    • Block 2004 defensive capability, to be complete by the end of December 2005: plans 20 interceptors and 9 missiles for additional protection from ballistic missiles launched from the Middle East.

    • (Note: "interceptors" protect against intercontinental ballistic missiles, and "missiles" are designed to stop short and medium range missiles from the sea.)

Although behind schedule, the military is making progress on NMD. See this Sept. 2006 WP article and this 2007 NYT update. In October 2007 the Pentagon declared their pacific NMD program as "up and running" although they hadn't tested how the program would fare if "decoys" were used with a missile strike, as most likely would happen. (NYT)

Efforts to add a layer of missile defense in Eastern Europe are on hold, stalled by international reservations and Congressional budget cutting alike (WP).

How much is being invested:

  • $53 billion between fiscal years 2004 and 2009 (Dept. of Defense estimate as reported by GAO - pdf).

How reliable the interceptor missiles are:

  • 20% to 80% (September 2004, WP). (There have, however, been a few successful interceptor tests in '06 and '07 - WP and WP)

Where the facts are from:

See also Washington Post's graphic on the missile defense system and its history. The New York Times also describes a plan to place 10 interceptors in Europe, directed at possible future attacks from Iran (which currently has no missiles capable of hitting Europe).

For more facts on weapons trade and technology:

Updated in part October, 2007

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