Sunday, April 05, 2009

Just what did Obama commit to on missile defense?

In his Prague speech calling for an end to nuclear weapons, Obama seemed to announce that the U.S. would go forward with missile defense deployment if Iran's "nuclear and ballistic missile activity" continues:
So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.) If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed. (Applause.)
Do we have a missile defense system that is cost effective and proven? Here's what's last month's GAO Report had to say:

While MDA [Missile Defense Agency] completed several key tests that demonstrated enhanced performance of the BMDS [Ballistic Missile Defense System], all elements of the system had test delays and shortfalls. Overall, testing achieved less than planned For example, none of the six Director's test knowledge points established by MDA for 2008 were achieved. Poor performing target missiles have been a persistent problem. Testing shortfalls have slowed the validation of models and simulations, which are needed to assess the system's overall perfromance. Consequently, the performance of the BMDS as a whole can not yet be determined.

What the GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the MDEB [Missile Defense Executive Board] assess how the transparency and accountability of MDA acquisitions can be strengthened without losing the benefits of MDA's existing flexibilities. Meanwhile, MDA should improve its cost and test baselines; tie modeling and simulation needs into test objectives; provide more time to analyze tests; better coordinate with independent testers; synchronize development, manufacturing, and fielding with testing and validation; complete a key developmental test; and strengthen the basis for capability declarations. DOD agreed with 10 of the 11 recommendations and partially agreed with one.
Obama is plainly not ending missile defense development. Whether he'll deploy a system in the Czech Republic and Poland any time soon, however, seems dependent on many variables.

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