Report: U.S. Cannot Protect Homeland From Iranian, North Korean Missile Strikes

Little proof billion-dollar defense system actually works

Ash Carter
Defense Secretary Ash Carter / AP
• February 17, 2016 3:15 pm


The United States remains incapable of fully protecting the homeland from ballistic missile strikes from North Korea and Iran, despite spending billions to develop a missile defense system that remains unproven and unfinished, according to a government oversight report.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, or MDA, continues to sink billions of taxpayer dollars into technology that is not proven to be capable of handling an onslaught of ballistic missile strikes from Iran or North Korea, according to the report, which was issued Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office.

While U.S. military leaders maintain that the current system is likely to defend against "small numbers of simple ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea and Iran," actual testing of the equipment does not back this claim, according to the report.

As the MDA struggles to develop a working missile defense system, Iran and North Korea are continuing to develop advanced ballistic missile technology with few repercussions from the international community.

The United States will need to redesign and retest key components of its Ground-Based Midcourse Defense, or GMD, system to fulfill presidential mandates ordering that the defense system field 44 interceptors by the end of 2017, a goal oversight officials say it is unlikely to meet.

The "MDA has not demonstrated through flight testing that it can defend the U.S. homeland against the current missile defense threat," according to the report, which also states that the agency "has not proven" the GMD "can defend the homeland and may experience challenges improving the system."

At this point, the system has only demonstrated "a partial capability [to defend] against small numbers of simple ballistic missiles," according to the report..

However, "flight testing, to date, was insufficient to demonstrate than an operationally useful defense capability exists." A full assessment of the system’s "effectiveness is currently not possible."

Officials tasked with evaluating the system stated in January that its assessment of the system’s capabilities "remained unchanged."

While the Defense Department has complied with a mandate to regularly provide updates about its progress on the missile system, it has failed to explain how the system will be improved in the coming years.

The Pentagon "reports generally did not meet the requirements for evaluating options for improving homeland missile defense and were not submitted by the required deadlines," the report concluded. The reports also "did not meet the requirements to include an evaluation of potential options for improving homeland ballistic missile defense."

Additionally, the MDA has failed to prove that the defense system can carry out its most critical responsibilities when it comes to intercepting ballistic missile strikes.

The agency "has not demonstrated several key homeland missile defense capabilities and is relying on high-risk acquisition practices to achieve its goal of fielding 44 interceptors by the end of 2017," according to the report.

There currently is no proof that the system can intercept "a target representative of an intercontinental ballistic missile." It also remains to be seen if the defensive system is capable of "performing a salvo intercept where two or more interceptors are utilized against a single target."

"Tens of billions of dollars" have already been spent on the GMD system and billions more will be required to fix existing flaws, according to figures disclosed in the report.

Current designs of the system will have to be completely revamped in order to improve function.

"The current GMD kill vehicle design and concept of operations represent a performance plateau that cannot be overcome without augmenting and replacing the kill vehicles in the current fleet of fielded interceptors," the report states. "Doing so would likely require a multibillion-dollar investment by MDA."

There is also danger that improvement efforts are being rushed and could lead the agency to produce faulty equipment.

The agency is "relying on a highly optimistic, aggressive schedule that overlaps development and testing with production activities, compromises reliability, extends risk to the warfighter, and risks the efficacy of flight testing," according to the oversight report.