National Research Council Report Calls for Expanding Ground-Based Missile Defense, but Concedes System Can Be Fooled by Decoys

Science Group Says U.S. Should Not Expand Program Until It Can Be Shown to Work

Published Sep 11, 2012

WASHINGTON—The National Research Council (NRC) today released a report that calls for expanding ground-based U.S. missile defense but acknowledges that decoys and other countermeasures can foil the system. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the U.S. government should not expand the program unless and until it can be demonstrated to address this serious shortcoming.

The NRC was charged by Congress in 2009 to determine whether boost-phase missile defense is technically feasible and practical. Its report, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives,” recommends abandoning boost-phase defense in favor of midcourse systems and expanding the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, currently deployed in Alaska and California, including developing a new interceptor and adding a third site in the northeastern United States.

However, the report stresses that decoys and other countermeasures remain a critical obstacle to any effective midcourse missile defense system given the United States has not demonstrated a means of distinguishing a warhead from decoys or other countermeasures intended to confuse the system. The report suggests some ideas the Missile Defense Agency should study to try to solve this problem.

UCS experts maintain it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to plow ahead without establishing that the system would work in a real world situation.

“It makes no sense to build new interceptors and expand the ground-based missile defense system without proving that the system works,” said Laura Grego, senior scientist in UCS’s Global Security Program. “Congress should require that before expanding the U.S. system, the Missile Defense Agency subject it to rigorous testing against realistic targets with countermeasures. The system has yet to be tested in this way.”

Countermeasures should be expected. In its 1999 report, “Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015,” the U.S. National Intelligence Council stated that such countries as North Korea and Iran have access to a range of useful technologies and that they “could develop countermeasures based on these technologies by the time they flight test their missiles.” A year later, UCS and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a report titled “Countermeasures,” which explains how the U.S. missile defense system is vulnerable. Over the decade since those two reports were published, the Missile Defense Agency has still not demonstrated that the missile defense system can overcome these obstacles.